Blur live at the Palais Royale,
It was the very thing Blur want to distance
concert with screaming fans, raised arms, pogo-dancing,
cries of "Woo-hoo!"
if last night's fine gig at the Palais Royale was a
typical night for Blur these days, the British pop group
should feel bittersweet about quitting the road -- which
they've decided to do with the release of their sixth
Granted, there would have been a sense of occasion even
if singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist
Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree had tanked on stage.
was just one of a handful of shows Blur are doing in
support of 13's recent release.
Ticket sales were kept to a minimum. Instead of jamming
several thousand fans into a mid-sized venue, as
promoters could have easily done, the rather classy
lakeside hall was filled just shy of its 800-person
capacity -- a comfortable way to see a rock show.
And, as if to test for a fan reaction to the
uncompromising musical departure on 13, Blur played the
album from start to finish before indulging punters with
obvious favourites from the past.
band had their work cut out for them: The weird pacing
and murky melodies of 13 don't exactly lend themselves to
the kind of "knees-up" performances Blur are
Likewise, the band only had one extra musician on-stage,
she was sneakily hidden behind James' bass amp to lay
down the songs' integral keyboard drones.
Blur relied on sheer musical schizophrenia to make it all
work. Needless to say, it wasn't always a smooth ride.
Stripped of its gospel choir -- the band recruited the
Boys' Choir Of Harlem for a recent New York show but went
it alone here -- the opening song Tender took on a
chugging, slouching feel that was as equally effective
and nearly as infectious as its album counterpart.
Albarn spent much of the show moodily strumming an
acoustic guitar but he cut loose on fuzzed-up tearaways
Bugman, Swamp Song and B.L.U.R.E.M.I., as if to Remind
everyone what a terrific frontman he can be.
James mugged, cigarette dangling and his jeans inching
dangerously toward "plumber's butt" territory.
it was uber-nerd Coxon who, quite inexplicably, had
female hearts a-flutter with his shaky vocal turn on
Coffee & TV.
Some experiments worked -- the pulsating, one-word opus
Battle. Some didn't P the sludgy 1992.
none of that seemed to matter after set-closer No
Distance Left To Run, an aching ballad worthy of Neil
Young, or Spiritualized, which sounded heart-wrenching in
the warm, romantic space of the Palais.
encore hits -- '97's Beetlebum, '91's boppy There's No
Other Way, '93's Popscene, and ubiquitous
"Woo-hoo!" anthem Song 2 -- did fall neatly
under the "throw the fans a bone" heading. But
the night was already Blur's.