2 July 2000, Meltdown 2000, Royal Festival Hall, London, UK
reviewed by Toby Langley
CAPACITY: 2,500 - 2/7/00 - SET-LENGTH: 75 MINUTES
Tender (with choir)
Country Sad Ballad Man
To The End
Look Inside America
Beetlebum (1st rendition stopped during second verse)
Beetlebum (full correct version!)
This is a Low
Death of a Party
No Distance Left To Run
On Your Own
Ernold Same (with Ken Livingstone and choir)
Black Book (new song with choir)
Scott Walker assembled quite a line-up for this year's South Bank-based urban music-fest. Early on into the fortnight of entertainment that was handpicked by the reclusive legend himself, were appearances by Elliot Smith, Asian Dub Foundation, Smog, Jarvis Cocker and friends, Orbital and, of course, Austrian naturist band F**khead, famous for playing with their bits flopping over their instruments. However, on the final weekend of this year's refreshingly diverse event were the highlights that were going to matter: Radiohead's first UK appearance for far too long as well as Blur's 'only live show of the year'. Radiohead, from fan-reaction and favourable reviews, seemed to blow everyone away, but what with another eight or so UK live shows to come in September and October, the importance of this comeback show may have been ever so slightly diluted. However, with the Blur concert tonight, there's no doubt about it: this show was wanted badly.
Yes, but what to play may have been a problem. Just weeks prior to their performance, lead-singer Damon talked of how he wanted to play a set of entirely new material, though just a short while later, he admitted that this probably wasn't a likelihood. As the reputation of Meltdown is typically avant-garde (Damon and Graham last playing here in 1998 with the experimental duo, Silver Apples), it was expected by media and fans alike that a set of difficult and challenging tracks would be aired. So, as half of the seats were filled at the late start of 9:00pm (Euro 2000 final was on, well done France), a set of unusual sounds was certainly delivered to a curious crowd...
... Though only by Japanese support act, Cicala Mvta. After watching this band for half an hour, you could really feel enriched in the knowledge that Blur fans had taken to them readily, complete with their traditional Asian flutes, pipes and brass, not to mention twangy guitar and vigorously-stroked cello. For sure, if this act were the support for any other UK, 90s-established, guitar band, you'd expect the crowd reaction to be flat, but it was nice to know Blur fans were open-minded enough to accept and respect their form of sound. In terms of actually describing their sound, maybe the closest you could get is a brass band parping out blasts of noise crossed with the rock sound of the 80s, as demonstrated by the disturbingly competent playing of their guitarist. Tracks like 'Sorry to Have Fallen in Love with You' may have sounded quite similar to the next track according to the untrained ear, but what's wrong with that if the sound is both pleasurable and exciting to listen to? However, the cello-player's afro haircut and balloon-blowing antics mid-song were just plain disturbing (especially when he jumped offstage to reclaim his balloon after it failed to secure on to the lead's head).
This is it, however. Twenty-five minutes past ten, the lights go down and the completely-seated audience, bar the bustling photographers at the foot of the stage, are radiating excitement. The vast size of the stage is realised as Graham, Alex and Dave take to their places, Damon trailing behind as he scratches his face. On taking centre-stage, Albarn comments, 'Tonight we're gonna be playing an interesting set,' a grin emerging on his contented face. The opening space-ship sounding noises of 'Battle', complete with moon-bouncing keyboard intro, provide a chilling start to the night's song-selection. Dave's drumming is as tight as ever and as the crunchy and echoing guitar work of Coxon fades away, you've already forgotten that their last live appearance was almost seven months ago.
Damon's known for his stage-comments. Often he says before popular live songs, such as 'There's No Other Way' that they're 'never gonna play it ever again', but, sure enough, it will pop back into the live set less than a year or so later. So, when his recent comments in the 'NME' of them never playing ANY singles again, fans couldn't help greeting his views with scepticism. And why not, because as the London Community Gospel Choir shuffles onstage unnoticed until the spot-light shines on them and Graham's guitar opens 'Tender', the idea of Blur not playing any of their singles ever again sounds ridiculous - how can a chicken not lay its eggs? It's a clap-along occasion, Damon's vocals sublime and ending after a moving 'oh my baby' closure from the choir. 'Modern Life is Rubbish' hidden gem, 'Blue Jeans', opens with ba-ba keyboards and stop-start drums. The melodic chorus is sheer bliss, filling the huge building quite capably and making it seem like a local village hall. Two similar sounding tracks (starting quite acoustic and shoulder-moving, before rocking out in a wall of sound) follow, 'Trimm Trabb' and 'Country Sad Ballad Man', making way for a mellowed and touching 'To The End'. Introduced by the now-comfortable singer, Damon dedicates it to Scott, 'I just know that he's had quite a powerful effect on our lives (looks to band)...'
The comment, 'This one's about touring and how hard it is,' triggers off a barrage of fans answering back sarcastically, 'Oh yeah, really hard!' Damon responds almost patronisingly, 'Oh, well, you don't know, which is fine. I don't expect you to know what it (touring) is like...' And with that, the first ever UK performance of 'Look Inside America' is played, beginning with Damon's acoustic strumming and wailing, though strong vocals. As the song reaches its musical break (Dave brushes some chimes together on his kit and Graham gently plucks his guitar), you can't help asking yourself, 'Why wasn't this a single and why wasn't it number one in the charts for two years?' The 'Blur' material continues with 'Beetlebum', which, in all fairness starts badly from the outset; Damon forgets his words, it slips his mind where the chorus comes in and he doesn't even bother trying the second verse, preferring to laugh in the direction of Alex, who, up till now, has successfully not taken the 'Fat Les are shite' remarks to heart. The laughing frontman reasoned with the crowd for his lack of professionalism, 'It's just that every time I look at him (Alex), I won't tell you the name of the brand of the cigarettes he smokes, but I just can't help thinking of all the free motorcycles and things he's got because of it!' Claps emerge from the crowd and it's agreed that their 1997 number one would be given another shot - good thing two because it sounded damn fine.
It's worrying how you can actually forget how amazing 'This is a Low' sounds live, because I really think this was their best version yet. However, rather than letting people dwell on that by walking offstage for a set of encores to pop up later, they remain where they are unusually and play a thrilling 'Death of a Party', complete with scratchy guitar and eye-endangering lighting. This gig was just getting better and better. You could just feel the atmosphere increase and the inclusion of the songs so far was a testament to Blur's exceptional ability and vast back catalogue. 'No Distance Left To Run' is always worthy of inclusion, the lack of lighting poignant, forcing you to focus in on the words and sound of the music, Graham continuing to play on top form. However, once again, rather than buggering offstage to let us linger on the greatness of their last top-20, they stay and play an unusual single-choice for the so far toned down and almost 'chilled' set - 'On Your Own', but thank God they did play it. The audience at the sides of the stalls had a dance, a singalong and the lights brightened up the darkness that otherwise floated above the stage. It could have been show-closing, but, no, not yet.
The last performance of 'The Great Escape''s weakest moment, 'Ernold Same', complete with now-London mayor, the nasal-whining, but people's choice, Ken Livingstone, was in 1995 at Wembley Arena. For tonight, as then, he was given a platform from which he could recite several lines of mindless poetry whilst Blur play ridiculous incidental music, Damon bawling, 'Poor old Ernold Same' over the top of it all. However, this time, the choir takes the vocal responsibilities from Damon and turn this silly, but admittedly fun number, into a strong track, the audience in awe at the sight of Ken. The response is as strong as it could have been for Phil Daniels doing 'Parklife', but this was a more welcome surprise. Once again, though, how can this all last. 'This is our last song... and it's a new song...' Expecting people to jolt upright in their seats and scream 'NOOOO!' before stabbing themselves violently, Damon was pleased to hear a few cheers, though he still protectively commented, 'If you don't like it, then, er, I guess we're f**ked!' The audience laugh, but he's right; if Blur produce poo songs from now on in, then they are f**ked, but any fans know better than that. 'Black Book' is incredible and Blur are secretly confident of it, after all, would YOU close a show with a new song that you thought was a load of smelly pants? No, exactly my point, thank you very much. Starting, as much as I hate to say this, with the soundalike keyboard 'bomb-bomb-bombs' that can be heard in the 80s hit 'Take My Breath Away', featured in 'Top Gun', Damon croaks, 'Give me a soul' as the drums patter almost silently, the bass oozes and Graham's guitar is kept to a harsh minimum. The slow-burner then explodes in vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir, creating an explosive crescendo of sound before it closes and the band disappear, gone. Not coming back. It's mindblowingly profound and as the house lights appear, people are astonished that it's over, but easily admit about how good the show was.
Damon commented that this was definitely their only live show of they year, but let's hope that like his 'we'll never play the singles again' comments, that it was just a throwaway remark.
(c) Toby Langley 2000 onwards. All international rights reserved.
comments from Maryse Laloux
What a night ! What a night !
First I was very happy to see Sarah, Simon, Ian & mates, Lorraine, and Scot again and then meet with Claire, Sophie, Gary and his 2 friends Mark and Steve for the first time. It was so much fun to watch the Euro 2000 final with such a happy crowd and eventually see France win the match. What an exciting game that was and what a happy end to share with you all ! Thank you Blur friends. You made that game even more special !
And then the blur concert. First of all I was very impressed with the venue and its acoustics ! The Royal Festival Hall ! Did the Queen pay for it ! What a great concert hall that is ! Like many of you I saw only a small part of the first band. They sounded quite good. Happy and exotic, weren't they ?
I was surprised and a bit disappointed at first to hear Blur play their "old songs" instead of the entire set of new material they were supposed to unveil at Meltdown but their setlist and performance were so good that I was very happy with what I was given to hear. Damon's voice sounded better than ever. I think his voice is like vintage sweet white wine ! It gets sweeter and gains body with age. I was happily surprised to hear Ernold Same live with Ken Livingstone. The guy has guts and is obviously grateful to Blur for their support in the last election. Well done Ken ! And most of all I particularly liked Blur's new song. It seems to be another personal song of Damon's but a happy one this time. Damon sings "Put away my black book Put it on a fire" "Baby when you hold me I feel no fear - Baby when you hold me I need nothing no more" "I've made up my mind - I've got nothing to hide". It starts very slow, low and quiet and gets louder half way through. I liked the way tension slowly builds up in the second half of the song as Damon sings "give you my soul - give me my soul" over Dave's obsessive drum beat and Graham's gentle guitar noises. He ends up singing these words in a very high-pitched voice and every instrument gets pretty loud. It finishes in a quiet, gospel mood with a short bit of the London Community Gospel Choir. A very well-balanced song indeed.
Now I'm back home and everybody here is talking about our marvelous soccer team and is so happy. It's really fantastic ! Les Bleus united us all French people 2 years ago when they won The World Cup and they are doing it again. Merci les Bleus !
Tender (with LCGC)
Country Sad Ballad Man
To The End
Look Inside America
This Is A Low
Death Of A Party
No Distance Left To Run
On Your Own
Ernold Same (with Ken Livingstone & LCGC)
Black Book* (with LCGC at the end)
*the lyrics to Black Book are in the Lyrics section
*Black Book can be downloaded from the MP3 section
reviewed by Chris Goymer
Well, they played stuff I'd never heard before and most of the audience didn't seem that interested in them- but enough of Cicala Mvta. Cicala Mvta were obviously very good in their field but not really my kind of thing. Special mention must go to their CRAZY cello player. Great entertainment from him alone.
But we were here to see that little, unknown band that went by the name of Blur. Well, having had the day to reflect on their performance, I can safely say it was first-class. It was interesting to see them in an all-seating venue, and just allow myself to concentrate on their performance and sound. They played a set which was suited for a theatre, purposely leaving out their more rocking numbers such as Song2 and B.L.U.R.E.M.I. Their set choice was very interesting drawing on material mainly from '13' and 'Blur'. They were free to play basically what they wanted, and their choices probably reflect the songs that are favourites with them. After fearing/looking forward to an obscure set list, they played a popular set in the end. It seemed that all my all time favourite Blur songs kept appearing- Blue Jeans, To The End, This Is A Low, Beetlebum, Death Of A Party, Tender, Battle, No Distance.
They opened with the phenomenal Battle, for which the excellent sound and lighting was clear right from the beginning. Then it was big song after big song, with it seemed no fillers included. I was seating in the upper tier and the sound really was very good all the way through.
The best song of the night for me was This Is A Low- already my favourite Blur song, this was the most powerful version I've heard yet. I won't go into too much detail, but the biggest surprise of the evening must have been the playing of Ernold Same. Ken Livingstone was brought on and I thought the world had gone mad. Respect to Blur for having the cheekiness to do that.
Oh, and they finished with a new song. Much in the vain of Tender, it built up to a crescendo of noise before returning to the soothing sound of the London Community Gospel Choir. Very hard to judge a song on one listen, but it did sound fantastic.
Only criticism is the length of the gig. They only played 14 songs, and I was genuinely surprised that they did not return for an encore. Oh well, but what they did play was live music at its best. A stunning performance from a stunning band. Thanks Blur!
Cheers to anyone who is still reading this!
reviewed by Tom Hannan
You've read other people's but I was always going to do one anyway, so here's my attempt at a Meltdown review. Hope you like it.
SET LIST: Battle / Tender (With London Community Gospel Choir) / Blue Jeans / Trimm Trabb / Country Sad Ballad Man / To The End / Look Inside America / Beetlebum / This Is A Low / Death Of A Party / No Distance Left To Run / On Your Own / Ernold Same (With Ken Livingston & London Community Gospel Choir) / Black Book (With London Community Gospel Choir)
It's rare you go along to a gig not knowing what to expect at all. Blur's series of Singles Nights gigs last year rounding up with a triumphant set at Wembley Arena were later called the band's goodbye to the old material. It was hinted by Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon that tonight's set would consist entirely of new songs and a few Scott Walker covers.
As it was, the songs that were played were not all new ones, neither were they the old tried and trusted hits such as 'Parklife' and 'Song 2'. Instead the set was a very good mix of some of the band's better singles and tracks that passing fans may not have taken to too kindly, but that tonight's audience which was made up more or less entirely of die hards could hardly believe they were hearing.
'Battle' from last year's '13' album started off the set blindingly, with Graham clearly enjoying the noises coming from his amplifier via his wide array of pedals and Alex taking his position as ever on the far right of the stage, fringe covering half of his face and cigarette drooping from his mouth. 'Tender', complete with choir, followed, and it was brilliant. Bar one or two more conservative members, there was clapping and hand swaying everywhere, even though the crowd were forced to remain seated at all times in the gig.
So far, there hadn't really been any surprising songs, in fact more surprising was that there weren't as many obscure B-Side tracks and improvisations as people were expecting. But the next song, 'Blue Jeans' was a real treat. The 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' track has only been played live two or three times previously. Why this is the case is a mystery, because it could possibly be one of Blur's best songs. Unlike many tracks showcased tonight, there's no choir, no strange guitar effects, just a simple song which should be included in Blur's set far more often.
''I think I'm getting too informal for my own good!'' says Damon. He has been talking to the crowd a lot this evening, but there isn't any need to apologise, the personal atmosphere of this gig is maybe what made it so special. Before going into 'To The End' (one of five singles played tonight), Damon thanks Scott Walker for inviting them to close his Meltdown festival. It's obvious they genuinely admire this man greatly, and the song itself wears its Walker influences on its sleeve proudly.
'Look Inside America' got its UK debut, Damon describing it as 'A song about how hard touring is, I don't expect you to understand, that's OK''. After all the interviews in which the band have complained about life on the road, the crowd may have more of an idea about the band's view of touring than Damon makes out. ''Got to play a second rate chat show, it's a nationwide deal so we gotta go...'', it's another chapter in the story of Damon's love / hate relationship with fame, and a fine song which should have been a single from the 'Blur' album.
Halfway through 'Beetlebum' things look as if they may be starting to go a little pear shaped. Damon has already somehow managed to forget the words to the bridge ''and when she lets me slip away...'' which the crowd helped him out with, but the second verse isn't even attempted, because Damon's in fits of laughter. ''Stop this, I've got to explain why I'm laughing so much!''
Confused, the crowd listened as he explained ''Anyone who knows Alex knows he smokes a lot, it's just it's got to the stage now that he smokes so much the brand he buys have started giving him motorbikes and houses and things... anyway... I just looked at him, he made me laugh!'' The professionals that they are, the song was started again, good thing too as it was one of the highlights of the night, along with the song that followed it. 'This Is A Low' is not only Blur's best song, but possibly the best song written in the last ten / fifteen years. Graham's solo, along with the rest of the song, is simply stunning.
'Death Of A Party', a song about AIDS and teenage sex, is scarily effective. Purple and blue lights flash about the Royal Festival Hall as the worrying lyrics ''Death of the teenager... should have slept alone...'' blast from the P.A. system. If Martians ever land, we now have a bloody good soundtrack.
Most unexpected moment of the night is newly appointed Mayor Of London Ken Livingstone's appearance for a duet on the amusing, but let's face it, pretty terrible 'Ernold Same'. As Alex James once commented on it; ''Doesn't it just make you want to commit suicide?!'' That was perhaps the point of the album version, but tonight's rendition is so funny that the effect could be quite the opposite. It's the only song from 'The Great Escape' that's played tonight (notable maybe that there are none from 'Leisure'). Ken's dulcet tones really do give the London Community Gospel Choir a run for their money, but he assures us he's ''Not giving up the day job''. Perhaps as well, Ken.
''You're going to have to listen to this one. It's a new song, and if you don't like it, well, we're f***ed!'' As it happens, they're not f***ed. 'Black Book' is similar to 'Tender' and a Damon solo track 'Dying Isn't Easy', the gospel choir return, but not until very near the end where the song has turned into a big guitar piece after its more minimal beginnings with just Damon and an acoustic guitar. A refrain of ''Give me my soul...'' is chanted repeatedly towards the end, before a standing ovation and the band vacating the stage. Although it's not a set full of new tracks, the single new song is received very well, and maybe an indication of a more tuneful new album.
No encore, no long goodbye, it's over. The set's been relatively short but so full of surprises and fantastic songs it's not going to be one anyone forgets in a hurry.
reviewed by Ian May
Set-List: Battle, Tender, Blue Jeans, Trimm Trabb, Country Sad Ballad Man, To The End, Look Inside America, Beetl, Beetlebum, This is a Low, Death of a Party, No Distance Left To Run, On Your Own, Ernold Same, Black Book.
Position: 15 metres in front of Graham. Eye height.
After France winning the Euro2000 Championships I knew it was going to be a great night, especially after hearing the first few space influenced notes of Battle one of my favourite Blur songs. Filling the room with atmospheric music in a place already buzzing with atmosphere from the fans brought goosebumps to my skin, the perfect live opener perfectly performed made me think that this night was going to be very special indeed.
Tender was to follow after the introduction of the LCGC, again cut short of the full album version but it doesn't really matter, we all loved this version with the acoustics of the RFH suiting it to the ground and bringing the most out of all the instruments and vocals performed on this song and every song actually.
We were talking about the anticipation of the next song being better than knowing the setlist and this was definitely true when the feeling of 'What's this?' hit everyone for the first few seconds. Yes, the Modern Life Is Rubbish track Blue Jeans was to be next and the surprise was a great one, much better than the original, again the bringing the 'new Blur' influence to it and we do hope that Blur will 'stay this way forvever'.
Usually we can guess the next songs by the few notes played by Graham to check his guitar is in tune and ok, but sneaky Graham 'specs one minute, gone the next' Coxon did his best not to give anything away, huge respect to him.
The half acoustic half electric song Trimm Trabb was to follow and I'd just like to thank Dave for telling me what each song was a minute into them, thanks mate, I never knew until you told me, Oasis fan.
With every song I found myself sub-consciously singing along, I tend not to for most because I'm so bad with remembering lyrics but felt my mouth moving anyway and getting it right most of the time.
Country Sad Ballad Man was introduced well and with a point about the state of times today. I couldn't help but notice Grahams mic being turned up a little louder, he came across as much more vocal in between him adding to his sound effects vocabulary of blowing raspberries into the mic. Class.
To a song of which was virtually dedicated to Scott Walker who had a lot of influence on the band To The End, beautifully performed, fantastic lighting and not a mistake made, the perfect tribute.
In what was a very personal gig, Damon felt he was 'being too informal for his own good' but it made us feel special and made me smile from ear to ear, he explained that the next song Look Inside America was about 'touring and how hard it is' which prompted crowd reaction for him to reply 'It's ok, I don't expect you to know' which is very true.
Beetlebum: A thoroughly entertaining night suddenly became more interesting and more personal as we had a band so relaxed and at home with us that they could stop a song after a mistake and start it again knowing we wouldn't mind. Just as we all belted into 'and when she lets me slip away' (which well, does it for me if a girl sings it) Damon decided he'd sing another verse instead of the bridge, Graham cracked up, Dave had a huge grin and Alex was p*ssing himself, as for us, well seeing the lot of them have so much fun was brilliant, every fan just laughing at Damon try and talk his way out of it, when he blamed Alex who said 'F**k off, it was you', Damon explained it was the fag hanging out of Alex's mouth and the way he was posing like an advert for cigarettes because of 'all the motorbikes and planes and stuff' Alex was getting from the brand he smokes just made him laugh. Take Two: Pure genius, enough said.
This Is A Low with awe-inspiring red lights glaring from behind the front man made this Blur classic totally captivating everyone drawn in, Graham's magnificent guitar playing to the max and definitely an instrumental to remember. Wow.
I'd always wanted to hear Death Of A Party played live and Sunday night I got exactly what I wanted, I was so glad that 5 of the 14 songs were from Blur, probably being my favourite album overall and to hear them live, especially ones I thought I'd never hear was a true gem.
No Distance Left To Run had a change of lyrics I'm sure, did anyone else notice? Maybe his feelings have changed, I couldn't make out what he said coz I was singing the original lyrics. Grahams guitar scathing and twisting around Damon's heartfelt vocals makes for an emotional, personal and beautiful song where-ever and whenever you hear it.
Strange how you would go from NDLTR to On Your Own but they did it. With the amazing acoustics in the RFH I heard music in songs that I hadn't heard before or maybe missed, especially with this song I noticed a very cool dance sound buried deep within the song that Diana must have been playing or sampling, either way it made me enjoy the song a whole lot more.
On came Ken Livingstone for Ernold Same, gaining a reception like Phil Daniels would, Ken managed to be a bit slower than the original which led to Damon jumping around doing faster signs to him but still loving it, you couldn't take Damon's smile away that night if you tried.
Next, a new song, called Black Book, Damon came up with the theory 'if you don't like it, we're f**ked', kinda true but even if it did suck, the new album WILL have other songs on there too, still, it far from sucked, it was wonderful, a very well timed song, great build up that just makes you want to wait for that big bang where it all blends together and hits the peak, well described by someone as a mix of Beetlebum and Tender, stick Dying Isn't Easy in there too. If the album is anything like this, we're in for a treat.
All through the night Damon was very honest with us and sincere and I'd never felt more at home at a gig than this one and I don't think I ever will unless they come round my house for a jam session. I knew by the look in Damon's eyes that after the song, he was genuinely pleased and loved every second of this gig and I knew he wasn't coming back after he said 'That really is it, bye' and gave us the thumbs up. Dave, I should have made that bet with ya that they weren't coming back on. Doh!
The whole band looked so relaxed and happy and pleased to be there, Damon found time to sit on the edge of the stage in his cheeky manner, winking at two girls sat in front of me and shook hands with a guy in the front row.
Someone wanted art at the Meltdown Festival from Blur, well this was FINE ART baby!
Lot 105: Ian May
PS. He didn't mean it but Damon nearly hung a security guy, his lead went over his head and if it wasn't for the trusty Smoggy that guy would have been in trouble coz Damon ran the other way, he would have been hung, anyone else see it?
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