August 2, 2012;
The 100 Club, London
Tonight at a legendary underground sweatbox known as The 100 Club, Blur treated their 350 closest fans to a show reminiscent of their art school days, as part of a week-long Converse concert series. Regrettably, I left my Chuck Taylors at home, and a perfect pair of vintage white gogo boots are now in tatters. At least they died a glorious death, dancing at an exclusive gig in an infamous venue.
With sticky floors, a dingy vibe, and the air salty from sweat, the setting was more like a Blur gig from the year 1989, (sans asymmetrical hairdos). The sound was predictably gritty, as the night was more about atmosphere than sonic perfection. Vibe has always been The 100 Club’s strong suit – from Jitterbug and Bebop to Jazz and Punk, it would be a formidable task to assemble a more impressive artist roster from the history books of any other club, let alone one so small. Thanks to efforts by musicians such as Paul McCartney, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor and others – and finally a partnership with Converse, The 100 Club was saved from certain extinction last year.
Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong were early performers, followed by BB King in the fifties, and The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Who in the sixties. Perhaps best known for The 100 Club Punk Special gig, the bill featured the fortuitous lineup of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Vibrators and Stinky Toys in September of 1976.
Many cite The 100 Club as one of the birthplaces of the punk movement. Indulging their long-running flirtation with layered noise rock, Blur played a set which invoked their inner punk personas. For one night, Blur was the revered cult band they once dreamed of becoming.
Blur has at times, musically rebelled against themselves, to avoid being pigeonholed into producing a certain sound; Albarn’s explorative nature is largely responsible for the diversity and prolificness of his success beyond Blur. On the glossy end of the spectrum: âGirls & BoysâÂ, âThe UniversalâÂ, âFor TomorrowâÂ; and with jagged edges songs like âAdvertâÂ, âBugmanâÂ, âSong 2âÂ.
This show was better suited for Blur’s dirty side, and their set was venue-appropriate. They opened with âGirls & BoysâÂ to deliriously beholden superfans, and maintained the crowd’s frenetic energy with a selection of uptempo favourites. One of the show’s highlights (sure to make the upcoming Hyde Park songlist) was the chaotic âBugmanâÂ, which they haven’t performed since 1999.
Damon, Graham, Dave and Alex picked up where they left off, sounding superior to their younger selves. There were a few noticeable changes in their performances – all for the better from years of creative collaborations. The band seemed more connected to the audience – and to their own onstage experience. Perhaps they were as grateful as their fans for this intimate gig.
Having long since traded in his eyeliner and hair-gel for metal teeth and a short crop, Damon Albarn is happily divorced from the pretty boy image of his early career. Although uniformed in his signature boyish stripey shirt, Graham Coxon played the gig without his signature specs. Has laser eye surgery meddled with our indie style icon?! Dave Roundtree hasn’t had a beat or hair out of place in the last 25 years and this show was no different.
Alex James with his mop finally out of his eyes, was no longer the nonplussed bassist we may remember. He was engaged – standing on speakers and leading cheers, clearly enjoying a taste of his former life. Alex must’ve been thinking it was a long way from the farm, on occasion laughing to himself bemusedly. Recently claiming that he thinks of nothing but âcheese and childrenâÂ, h
is mind was on the music at this gig.
Blur warmed up for a few numbers before attempting the more droney Beetlebum.With no manic pace to hide behind, this was the first challenge of the evening pulled off flawlessly. Coxon’s backing vocals were disciplined and consistent, and certainly needed to flesh out the more melodic tunes. Roundtree’s aggressive but reliable timing kept the band rooted and driving, even during the occasional downtempo song – the true test of any drummer.
It was nice to hear Graham’s guitar at a level loud enough for the occasion, but not so overbearing as to step all over everything else. From footage of early gigs, Graham has turned his levels way down. No longer needing to prove himself as a thunderous guitar God, Coxon’s tack to performing a Blur set is more versatile and song-centric than before.
Also notable was the strength of Albarn’s vocals during the more physical aspects of the gig. Earlier in Albarn’s career, he would normally give voice or movement, but rarely at the same time. The band as a whole seems more self-aware and invested in what they’re giving their live audience. In their maturity, Blur’s performances are more thoughtful while their recordings sound more loose and relaxed.
Blur closed out the show with their melancholic new release, âUnder The WestwayâÂ. Sometimes watching a group idolized in your youth can be depressing 20 years later – but not in this instance. It didn’t shine a prying light on the aging soul. Albeit with a few more greys, the boys are grown up and better than ever. Of all the stenches in the air – one was missing. Desperation. There was no need for Blur to come back, all are doing just fine on their own. The move might have been to forever put to bed notions of a permanent reunion, to ârightâÂ an acrimonious split – or as simply inconceivable as it sounds, perhaps just to have fun.
1. âGirls & BoysâÂ
4. âYoung & LovelyâÂ
5. âColin ZealâÂ
6. âOily WaterâÂ
8. âBugmanâÂ (First performance since 1999)
9. âThe PuritanâÂ
10. âTrimm TrabbâÂ
11. âFor TomorrowâÂ
12. âUnder The WestwayâÂ