11 December '99, Wembley Arena, London, UK
reviewed by Toby Langley
Capacity - a mere 15,000!
Set-list: Oh, you know it!
DJ Dan Lywood was finishing his first major UK tour. What would be expected is a crowd full of teary-eyed admirers of the very talented DJ playing his last show of the year, but instead chants of 'we want Blur' faced back at him. Rather than give a witty response to make the crowd feel like poo, he very intelligently stuck up his two middle fingers at the people concerned. However, everyone was wanting Blur, so there's no need to get upset when people cheer for something else. Don't worry Dan.
Anyway, there was no point getting upset about a support-act, we were here for what the press have built up to be the triumphant return for Blur to crowd-pleasing after a disappointing set at T in the Park, where they played 'all of 13'. However, anyone who was there may know that Blur only played seven tracks from their new album, so the press furore following Blur's 'crap' performance has led to this short run of UK singles shows being even more hyped than 'South Park'. I, for one, was expecting something special because after seeing such a storming set at Newport just a week ago, wondering how Blur could top it was beginning to become a worry.
Diana, the understated unsung hero of Blur's keyboard play, took to the stage first to produce the opening loop of keyboard effects that form the baggy-pop fusion of 'I Know'. The lights were minimal and the vast screens on either side of the stage remained blank throughout the whole song, even as the band walked on. The singalongability of the 1990 double A-side was incredible with people who hadn't known it on the way in beginning to sing before the dying choruses of the track. A smug looking Damon peered at the crowd, encouraging them to turn up the screams with bizarre hand-gestures, and Alex appeared to have washed his hair for the occasion (although he didn't go to the trouble of actually combing it). Dave sat on his stool and only looked up to share bemused expressions with a block of hyperactive nutters right at the side of the venue, and Graham looked nervous, but at the same time, excited. The grungey crunch of the opening chords rang through the speakers and 'She's So High' was here, in its full simplicity and majestic crowd-going sounds ensuring maximum audience participation, in the form of clapping and slow pogoing. Suddenly, as Dave's thumping drum-kicks opened the track, Damon and co. were in full view, warts and all, thanks to the aid of the TV screens by the side of the stage, and the lines, 'I want to crawl all over her' sounded almost of a lullaby quality, even though they represent something somewhat more sinister. The track closed in an eruption of cheers and claps and 'There's No Other Way' started up with the curtains drawn back to reveal a huge white sheet, on which images commonly associated with Blur's early gig lights were projected. 'This is our worst song and we're never playing it again. Then again, I always say that after songs now! It must be getting boring!' Boos flooded the arena at the thought of no more 'Bang', though after the response given by the crowd, I'm sure in the future Blur shall deem it fit for concert-inclusion. Well, that was Leisure out the way..
Before the England versus America era was upon us, a quick reflection into what Blur started out as was introduced in the form of the raucous 'Popscene' that was only polished by the plush playing of the horn section and sexy lights. Images from the video flooded the screens and this was a pattern to repeat in almost every track before the end of the night providing many piss-takes for the crowd to comment on, such as 'Aahhh Ha ha ha ha! Look at Damon's hair! Ha ha ha!', etc. Another set-change was in order, with the curtains going back even further to portray the front-cover of the next single to be performed and a scene from London life. 'For Tomorrow' cleared up the problems of getting into the spirit of a gig that Wembley produces because of its massive airplane-harrier shape. Mass-clapping and finger-pointing from the crowd allowed Blur to warm to the atmosphere themselves and this was reflected in the show because it appeared to improve with every passing number. A touching version of 'Chemical World', where the audience were allowed to sing the 'yes-yes' sections of the chorus, provided the last chance of a more... sophisticated pop song before the blaring trumpet roars of 'Sunday Sunday' had deafened the arena. This version was quite tasty though. At the fast, frantic opening where the tempo cheekily increases, a collection of what must have been 15-20 burgers, all clumped together, introduced a minor protest by Blur on the current situation regarding obesity involving meat and 'fast-food'. This impression was given further as the screens projected someone's excrement returning to the place it had come from, which caused a groan of shock from the audience that only made Damon laugh. In addition to these disturbing scenes, images of animal-slaughter and meat-carving resulted in even the largest of meat-lovers to ponder whether meat was the way, or if meat was murder.
'Girls & Boys' was completely fantastic and a middle-section allowed the crowd to clap to the loudest sound possible by the motions of slapping two flabby palms together. The pace was immediately turned down with yet ANOTHER change to the set: a mirrorball entering the centre of the stage for which only one song could follow - 'To The End'. Words and phrases that filled the bottom half of the screen during the original video were reintroduced on the vast screens below the pictures of the reflecting light from the giant ball of mirrors. Before anyone had a chance to recover from the emotional version, the ball was swooped up into the darkness of the stage-lights above and the curtains were pulled back to show a further two screens in the centre of the stage. This was getting ridiculous - were they going to do a costume-change next? The cockney bark of Phil Daniels chanting 'Oi' over and over filled the stage as he ran from corner to corner in a victorious attempt to get the crowd pumping for 'Parklife'. Once again, the singalongability meter soared through the roof and it was quite wonderful to see Damon, arm over shoulders with Phil, sing the chorus to the laddiest of their abilities, providing yet another highlight to what had so far been a stirling performance. Phil buggered off, the curtains were pulled into an Ally Pally style, as seen on 'Showtime', and two lights on both parts of the stage emerged from the smoky darkness above. 1994 came to a close with a great rendition of 'End of a Century' and it really shone through all the millennium hype that has been surrounding the turn of the year, and anyone who viewed this gig really could admit that it truly isn't special.
Well, another album, another funny Damon comment, 'This next one is 'Roll With It'' and the seated audience indulged in an East-End knees-up and pogo to the blinding version of 'Country House' that allowed Damon and Graham to jump alongside one another over and over for a period of thirty seconds. Graham's talk of 'not messing up the song unless he felt like it' obviously showed that he felt like it tonight, completely bending and stretching his strings to levels that couldn't be good for his guitar... (see 'Coffee & TV'). A magnificent 'Universal' held no surprises; it's simply a great song and nothing could be done to ruin it - an anthem for those insecure with new technologies. The cheesy Britpop sounds of 'Stereotypes' and 'Charmless Man' culminated in the screens flashing images from the period when Blur almost self-destructed, including the artwork to both sides of 'Great Escape' cover, summing up, whilst seemingly, wrapping up, a period that Blur would rather leave better best forgotten; lost in the encore break before the US rock merchants would return to the stage.
'This is part two', chuckles Damon, as Graham scrapes out the intro to 'Beetlebum'. The crowd-participation of 'And when she lets me slip away' was breathtaking blending into a good version of 'Song 2', where Damon wanted us to 'make noise this place has never dealt with, so we can KILL it!' The two central screens were draped in the green textile foilage that was last seen in the UK tour of 1997 and allowed the images to be projected in an extra clarity. 'On Your Own' merrily upstaged the previous number, and every time Graham made the weird guitar wobble sound at the end of each riff, the pictures wobbled on the stage's centre. 'MOR' continued this new trend of beating the previous song and its video clips showed Blur bouncing around the room in the 'Song 2' video and although reaching 'Blur's lowest chart position for a single, it received a steaming amount of appreciation with the band ready, and eager, to move on to the 'heartbreak' album...
'Please welcome the London Community Gospel Choir who are here to show you love, so you show them love by singing along!' and cheers ensued before the delicate country/blues noted of 'Tender' were opened by the shy guitarist. As the song evolved, the crowd began to take a larger part of singing along and it became the song of the evening, just like that, with another stage-set poking through the curtains in the distance facing the crowd. It was easy to just close your eyes and pretend you were in heaven. 'Coffee & TV' had the large blue circles flashing yellow and various colours as the crowd frantically moshed themselves to pieces and Damon jumped up and down himself - an impressive feat considering he was strumming his acoustic at the same time. Graham's big solo approached, and taking it far too aggressively, his second or third string snapped resulting in him looking around for help, like a boy who's just lost his mum for the first time in an Essex shopping-centre. Whilst this happened, the below crowd cheered and to see what the commotion was, everyone else turned to see a dancing milk-carton jumping around the screen next to Graham's face before it waved and disappeared, returning at the end for the wave-goodbye it provides as it flies off to heaven. Now, this was it. The final single of Blur's incredible 10-year history and a version to be featured in this gig, which shall be their last for an obscene amount of time no doubt. As the starting and finishing chords opened and closed the beautiful blues track, time was given to ponder over the band's remarkable history. Their punky art-school roots leading on to the baggy bandwagon they were said to have jumped on, and then the US-hating years where they promoted British values by releasing the most important UK album for well over ten years. They then killed their creation by taking it to its weirdest conclusion with the 'Great Escape', before moving on with their lo-fi US tribute, 'Blur'. Damon then broke up with his long-time girlfriend producing an album containing some of their finest work, and here they are now. Showing everyone what they are - the best UK band for over a decade, as well as proving to be the most quintessential.
'No Distance Left to Run' proved to be a triumphant closer to the incredible night, making the airplane-harrier seem like an intimate club. That was the show which saw Blur go through the darkest regions of their careers to their brightest times, and as they walked off the stage delivering a modest thanks and goodnight, you could see they were proud. Proud of what music they've made despite what they may say in interviews, and proud in knowing the fact that they're the only UK band that could hold up a two-hour show with the quality never waning throughout. If Blur were to split up in a few months' time, as upset as I'd be, I'd count myself lucky to have witnessed this show - Blur's finest hour.
Thanks a lot, and anyone who went to the gig will definitely share my views, I'm sure!
(c) Toby Langley 2000 onwards. All international rights reserved.
comments from Virginie Sabin
I got back to France on Sunday, still amazed with what I had heard and saw on Saturday night. I won't make a review, as Toby 's always the best for that!
Before I forget, cheers to all the blur fans I met (in order of appearance): Sophia, Ian and his mates, Sylvia, Sarah and Simon...
There definitely should have been more of you in the Underworld ! There was good music (although not enough blur...), and we had a good time there (though I was really tired!)
After the concert, we noticed a couple of black cars apparently waiting for some people to come out of the building... That really reminded me of the end of the Depot gig, when Maryse and I had the opportunity to meet the four lads...
We finally decided to wait for a while. Although Colin had told us it wouldn't be worth waiting, 'cause they were not going to get out by foot but in those cars, we stayed there. I don't know how long exactly we'd been waiting, but we saw Alex get into the first car; the chauffeur was driving so fast we thought he could have killed someone! Alex wasn't really hiding anyway; his window was open, and he smiled at us.
Then it was Dave's turn. When the car passed next to us (we were about 20-30 people waiting outside), we couldn't see him, as the windows were black. The lights that came from the other side of the car allowed me to recognise Paula, I think.
Then a lorry parked in front of the exit, so we couldn't see the people who were going out of the building. When I saw a car with Colin seating at the front, we figured out that Graham might have been at the back.
A few minutes later, another car with Smoggy at the front. Nobody seemed to realise that Damon was to be at the back. I was nearly the only one to try and have a look inside. Looking through the windscreen, I think I saw Damon at the back; but it was so quick!
So we had no autographs! But it's always quite a satisfaction to have been so close to them.
Oh, I forgot! We also saw Phil Daniels! He wasn't trying to hide at all, and cheered us all.
I'll always remember that guy who managed to get into the building -I still don't know how- and who saw Damon with Missy in his arms! How cute! He was so shocked he nearly cried! He was jumping all around the place screaming "I saw him!!! I saw him and the baby!"
Well, that's enough for now. Maybe that's not what you're all interested about!
Thanks again to my best blur friend Maryse. We've shared so many things, we couldn't even explain.
Virginie (Two's A Crowd)
reviewed by Adam Benzine
She's So High
For Tomorrow (Extended)
Girls & Boys
To The End
Parklife (with Phil Daniels)
End Of A Century
On Your Own
DJ Derik Notgood or Lovejoy or whatever his name was pretty unadventurous. His less than motivating music was, however, made up for by video footage of many skateboards causing themselves much pain and falling on banisters in funny positions. Ha Ha Ha! He basically just played other artists' records, I think there was some Lo-Fidelity Allstars in there somewhere. Interestingly enough, whoever it was who said I was stupid for rather wanting a DJ playing Blur records, then biggest cheer came when he played the Battle Remix, so there. Actually, the biggest cheer carne when he left the stage, and it's here that our adventure begins...
Near Death Experiences - Parklife, Girls & Boys, Song 2, Sunday Sunday, everywhere you'd expect really. I was down the front most of the gig. It's a bit like a war, with young girls fainting left right and centre. Air was but a memory from Sunday Sunday onwards. So Blur kick off into their best gig ever until the next one. It's just something I can't explain but every Blur gig is always better than the last. The amazing reception of I Know (all thanks to me guys and gals) and the other Leisure songs was heartwarming. Damon said they'll probably never play Bang again... Yeah! It was from the start that the rather fab stage props became apparent. I knew that Wembley's viewscreens were good having seen the Manics do their thing to some amazing video backdrops, but tonight, coupled with the bizarre floating stage props, they were just harnburgertastic! So the Leisure period saw all the early artwork flash before us, intercut with snips of the original She's So High video. It was strange seeing Blur 1991 vs Blur 1999. That haircut!
Modem Life Is Rubbish was also rather good although the heat was starting to kick in. Just as For Tomorrow and Chemical World sailed by, and I wasn't really looking forward to Sunday Sunday, 10 giant hamburgers floated down from the sky like intergalactic junk invaders and the videoscreens started showing The Life Of A Cow Backwards footage! Amazing! Especially the end of the solo when it goes up to light speed!
The Parklife period saw Phil Daniels arrive and mock his stereotypical image ("Oi!" was said about 20 times before the song kicked off) before a fantastic crowd sang their small blurry hearts out. I can go on like this but there are simply too many highlights. There were no bad songs tonight, and every song has an accompanying story. For someone who hates Country House (Introduced as Roll With It) Graham certainly didn't let it show, pogoing for the latter part of the song. The Universal (some comedian behind me shouted out "Wonderwall") had beautiful chandeliers accompanying it, Coffee & TV saw Graham breaking a string, and had Diana on Backing Vocals. Very nice. Popscene had the homey horns, MOR had the audience singing louder than Graham! as well as the fantastic video playing in the background, Tender had the choir and the audience for extra vocals, like I said, every song had a story. There were only two minor teeny microscopic faults I could find with the gig (ever the pessimist Adam). The first one was that, well, I don't know if anyone else felt this, but knowing exactly what's going to come next in the set is a bit boring. I mean, I love guessing the next song from the opening riff, and that wasn't there. The other thing, which I'm sure everyone will agree on, was that Damon scared the s***e out of me at the end. When it carne to No Distance Left To Run, he seemed as if he was going to say the words every Blur fan wakes up in the middle of the night sweating to. He said he just wanted to thank us all for coming... and how it had been wonderful... and that was it. Disaster avoided. I guess Blur have about us much idea as us where they'll go from here. I'm sure a new , millennium will bring a new direction. Whatever they do I'm sure it will be fantastic. I hope they don't split I really do. If they are considering it, well, I can give them 23 good reasons not to.
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