6 September '99, B-sides live, Electric Ballroom,
Camden Town, London, UK

reviewed by Toby Langley

Set-length - 90 minutes / Temperature - Probably 500 degrees Celsius!

Threadneedle Street
Bone Bag
I'm Fine
Uncle Love
My Sharona
I Love Her
Swallows In the Heatwave
No Monsters In Me
Polished Stone
Supa Shopper
Young and Lovely
Day Upon Day

The heat of Goldsmiths soon came back to haunt me as I entered the cramped surroundings of the narrow tunnel-like shape of the Electric Ballroom. The Specials were thumping out of the stereo and sweat was dripping down everyone's faces causing much-needed alcohol purchasing at the bar. People were sitting on the ground after just minutes of standing and as Blur walked on, Explain had soon arrived. It soon became apparent that Damon had shamefully got all the song lyrics displayed in front of him, which is fair enough. A fitting concert-opener, Explain had the crowd who hadn't passed out yet, dancing and jumping like spaced-out penguins and Graham's repetitive guitar-work never failed to bore, as Dave's powerful drum-smacks held together Damon's igniting vocals and Alex's catchy bassline. A tight finish to the song introduced a track I had never thought would be displayed in the live arena, but I'm glad it was.
Alex's smooth bassline, topped off with Graham's wobbling guitar noises introduced Damon's annoyingly simple lyrics and justified Mace's strength to the max. However, my highlight of the night was the next track, Threadneedle Street. Usually so boring and tacky to listen to as the organ-recorded drum beats play over a bland keyboard-sequence, the track was unbelievably listenable tonight. Diana's playing sounded finer than Damon's on the original, the lead singer also playing melodica for extra quality and Dave's drumming gave the song enough kick for it to be noted along with Blur's best b-sides. A beautiful Bonebag soon brought in the similar melodic splendour of Peach, which had a tune almost in the same vein as its former. During Peach, Damon was on his acoustic strings complimenting the distant wailing sounds that Graham was making with Alex's bass sounding extra fine on the composition. A surprise play of Uncle Love, sounding barely dated at all, soon walked into the guitar magic that I'm Fine is built around. The tired frontman then commented, "Gawd, it's hot in here! Is there any water to throw on the crowd because I've only got these little bottles? [PAUSE] F**king hell, I saw some larger bottles backstage where all those people were. In fact, why are those people backstage, why aren't they out here watching us? God knows what they get up to back there!" It was, however, at this time when things went slightly strange in the venue.
The heat kept getting more and more unbearable and people, by the dozen, were leaving the hall to flee for the (only just) cooler atmosphere of the bar area. However, for some, it wasn't cool enough and people actually started leaving the venue in anger. At the front of the stage, people were carried off, unconscious, away from the tiny hall. It was then it hit me that there were too many people in the same room and there should have been about 200 less people. I then looked to my left and saw a girl sitting alone with her head between her knees. She later lifted her head to show she was having a severe asthma attack and she was immediately taken to a safer part of the building. This wasn't looking good. After one of Damon's "favourite b-sides", Inertia, the soothing sounds of Luminous were enough to calm the heated crowd for three minutes of musical magic. Then suddenly, the guitar riff to the fan-club's most popular b-side started up and Tame had arrived to rapturous applause and vast greetings from the crowd. The golden chorus was set up by the dreamy wanderings of the relaxed bridge and people were soon singing along and pogoing despite a lack of energy.
"Did we actually record this next one?" Damon asks the rest of the band, even though I Love Her was released as the 2nd fan club single. "Anyway, this one's for Stephen Street", and a slightly different intro (similar to the one used in 1990 concerts) kicked the catchy baggy wonderland off in fine fashion. The ferocious Fried received arguably the applause of the evening and Damon commented that they also played it at Reading. This then sparked off memories to an earlier part of this show when someone was shouting for Parklife, so Damon simply replied to the casual punter, "You can f**k off! We could easily play another Reading set-list or we could play some b-sides for a change." The crowd disappointedly cheered at the thought of another Reading greatest-hits set. Grrr!
"This is a mellow one called Down." Two claps of recognition were given, one from me at the back and one at the front. Damon then looked at the unresponding audience and said, "I thought you were the guys who knew all our songs!" The crowd seemed to give off the vibe that, "Well, the truth was, we do know your songs Blur, but when you're dying of heat and sweating buckets, it's kind of hard to show enthusiasm!" However, as more people left, I got a better view and I witnessed the live excellence of the punky, spunky, go ahead and slap my monkey, No Monsters In Me. Graham's roaring guitar and Damon's 'la, la, la' chorus proved enough to be a highlight in my book and it's a wonder it's never been performed before. "Not trying to sound too flash, this song was recorded in Barcelona on an industrial estate", and I knew immediately that Swallows... was arriving and it was greeted with desperate happiness. This was because, for some, as soon as the track had closed, they were leaving. Although it certainly was the more-intelligent option (leaving the venue, that is) we only had one chance to make it work out because Blur'd never do another b-side showcase, so the real fans held on and stayed.
A breathtakingly-splendid Polished Stone with Damon on guitar went far too quickly, but Graham's country guitar stylings still linger in the back of my mind along with Damon's dreary vocals and Alex's wonderful bassline. Dave owned Supa Shoppa by smashing and crashing his cymbals to sheer perfection whilst holding the powerful musical-masterpiece together, which sounded extra dandy thanks to Damon's melodica and Diana's expert keyboard-playing. Damon now showed signs of his real anger by saying, "Look, I can't f**king play in these hot conditions. I won't do the next song justice, which I really want to do." Well, you wouldn't have known Damon was uncomfortable in the magnificent Young & Lovely because apart from the 6-minute marvel being note-perfect and faultless in every sense of the word, it was just so powerful that anyone there could have just forgotten the conditions for a second and be surrounded in a cool paradise. BUT, it was soon over and the overwhelmingly amazing Day upon Day closed the gig in the best possible way it could have gone and Damon's quick thank-you-and-goodbye now seemed predictable, but only went to make up a great Blur concert experience.
The truth is, the venue for the concert was just a bad choice because air-conditioning could have saved those 75+ people who left early and would have ensured no asthma attacks or claustrophobia-problems. In addition, you could see the band were clearly unpleased with the incredible heat and it is true that it did ever so slightly affect the event. However, by going to such a Blur gig you can see what striking power they have as a band. Although they played just a stack of b-sides, they were unmistakenly professional and provided a set that everyone could get into, even the ones who didn't know the songs. In fact, you can really see the power of a band when you go to such a show and you can walk away happy and satisfied, and so, for this very special occasion, I thank you Blur for an amazingly slick presentation of your b-sides and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Oh, and one thing, just choose a different venue to play them at next time!

Cheers for your time, Toby Langley.

(c) Toby Langley 2000 onwards. All international rights reserved.

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