Blur, Cliffs Pavillion, Southend-On-Sea – June 21st 2009
The first time I went to see Blur in concert sometime around 1992, Damon Albarn was wearing a Fred Perry top. So when the still lithe and youthful-looking Albarn strutted onto the stage of Southend’s Cliffs Pavillion on Sunday in the same top, I wondered if it was a uniform of sorts: back in Blur, must dress appropriately. It did the trick though because the foursome were back on song in this Essex heartland, the old tunes coarsing through them and out into the auditorium, punching and licking the crowd in equal measure…
The reasons for Blur’s reunion are not as clear cut as some of their rivals: they’ve all got thriving careers elsewhere so it’s not about the money. Judging on tonight’s performance, it may well just be because they can – and also because their songs have, for the most part, stood the test of time. With a curt “Evening,” the quartet launched into a trio of old favourites in She’s So High, Girls And Boys and There’s No Other Way, all of which pleased the watching Essexites. “We’ve played a couple of sets, but this is our first proper gig,” Albarn told them, throwing more beer/water onto the heated throng before steadying for Badhead, replete with brass section and backing singers to smooth out Albarn’s edges.
Thing is though, this Blur were leaner and meaner than we remembered. Blur of old dropped the odd chord, Alex James staggered around the stage and Albarn was a red-eyed maniac, albeit a slightly out of tune one. His voice is never going to please purists, but when he launched into gentler tracks like Out Of Time and Trimm Trabb, it’s never been more suited. Albarn is one of those singers who’s grown into and embraced his limitations, turning them into positives. The gig also turned love song Tender into a back-slapping singalong, the same happening to Coffee And TV, which Coxon took over vocals for.
Blur’s gigs of old grabbed you by the collar, stuck their tongue down your throat and then drank your pint. By those standards, this was a royal return to form. Gone was the more tentative band we saw in concert in 2000 – this lot are hungrier and darker by turns. James produced a double bass for one track; Albarn hollered through a loud speaker for another; and on Sunday Sunday he demanded the audience pogo, which they duly obliged. To The End and This Is A Low provided the lighters in the air moment and the encore included forgotten single Popscene, Song 2 and The Universal. Are they glad they’re back? It certainly looked like it from where we were standing.