Having experienced the rise of Blur from the American side of Atlantic, my undestanding of their popularity in England was merely conceptual. Of course, we all know Blur’s popularity in America is largely reducible to the phrase “that ‘Woo-Hoo’ band,” but there are certainly those of us who know that “Song 2” was one of many songs that represent Blur’s fitful nature. Listen to their greatest hits record and it should be apparent that this is a band uncomfortable dwelling in any one genre for longer than a half a song at most. So it was frustrating to love Blur from America, a country that by and large views this prolific and consistently excellent band as the makers of one fluke hit song. At the risk of sounding like a typical apologetic American, the British know better on this one, as the concert at London’s Hyde Park more than verified for me.
Yet while I certainly prefer England’s treatment of Blur to America’s, I have to say that I always founnd the rapturous eyes through which the British view Blur to be similarly mystifying. Blur are certainly a great band, but there has always been something that seemed so precise and scientific about their greatness. It’s almost as though the quality of their material is based on the maker’s intelligence rather than raw emotion. Much like the New Pornographers, for whom the phrase “super group” seems to imply more of a Marvel Comics aspect rather than being a technical musical term, Blur seem like professionals, as though they have a masters degree in pop. What little live footage I’d seen of the band seemed to sync up with this view: it was yeoman‘s work, no more, no less. So while their studio albums are completely deserving of the acclaim they’ve received, I had trouble imagining their concerts reaching transcendent levels.
Yet, while it may be imprudent to judge a band’s stage show based on a reunion concert in their home country attended by fifty-five thousand people, the July 2nd show at Hyde Park went a long way to illuminating what made Blur so special to England. Obviously, despite the wealth of styles they employ, they are at heart a thoroughly British band, as a spirited rendition of “Parklife” more than reminded me. While front man Damon Albarn may be happy to spend his down time writing operas in mandarin and collaborating with Malian musicians, leading Blur through a set that consisted almost solely of their greatest hits, he seemed absolutely at home. And the crowd couldn’t have been happier to have them back together, even if “back together” means little more than “with Graham Coxon on guitar.”
The crowd is particularly worth noting because, for better or worse, they pretty much made the show as enjoyable as it was. The band was as tight as ever and Damon was clearly having a ball, but the shows I (and, presumably, this site’s writers and readers) tend to attend generally max out at around five hundred people. It had been a while since I’d been to a show (or anything) with a crowd of over fifty-thousand people. Suffice to say, my place in the audience put me about a half a mile away from throwing distance of the band, forcing me to watch the show on the two big screens on either side of the stage.
So, in some ways, I agree with my brother’s assessment that this concert experience was a little like listening to Blur’s greatest hits at home, but when a pair of drunken hooligans suicidally climbed the speaker tower over my head and started waving the Union Jack, it was a timely reminder that this show was every bit about the fans as it was the talent on stage. Even the disconcerting shouts of “Jump” that always seems to accompany moments like this couldn’t ruin it. Besides, what’s thirty assholes rooting for the death of one of their fellow concertgoers in the face of fifty-five thousand drunk British singing along to “Tender?”