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Blur At Madison Square Garden, Saturday, October 24th, 2015, Reviewed

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1994 was a pretty good year for pop music at the Academy -a small club opposite the old New York Times, with the best balcony seats ever, and a regular haunt of mine. That year I saw Bjork on the Debut tour, Oasis pushing Definitely Maybe and Blur? Blur had a small collection called Parklife to sell. All three were great and Blur were best and any of the three would’ve trounced Blur at Madison Square Garden last night.Not that Blur were bad…

Unlike opening act, the preposterously overrated Courtney Barnett who has sung “give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey” so many times since breaking out at CMJ three years ago, she must want to pack up her guitar case and go back to Australia… where she would be bottled off stage for an opening set as lacklustre as this one. You’re in an arena, Courtney, project you fuck.

National treasure – England’s not ours, Damon Albarn projected just fine but that didn’t entirely save him. As late as his last commercial New York City performance, a good one at Roseland in 1999, the man was a whirligig of concentrated energy. He never stood still for one second. But that wasn’t true of Damon’s other, more popular, band,  electronic popsters Gorlillaz in 2010 (my review here)  where the scale of the show slowed him to a standstill. He was slow at times last night as well in a show that had no scale at all. Damon strapped on an acoustic guitar to allow the prodigal son lead guitarist Graham Coxon to handle lead vocals on “Coffee And TV” -a move that worked as an excuse for Damon to give out less, and Damon didn’t take it off till near 45 minutes later for “Parklife”; a long breather and while he never descended to the somnabulent levels of his solo gig two years ago, he wasn’t 25 anymore that much is for sure (Blur’s active years 1988–2003, 2008–present, fails to express how little they’ve been around. Their current album is the first since 2003), and he was pacing himself and the pacing and the poor song choices in the middle was a mistake.

Maybe I am being unfair, I was far away and there was no close circuit TVs (a cheap move by the band, though they didn’t spare a penny on assorted back up musicians),so really, all I could see was blurs far away. Also, a two date tour of the US (they also played the Hollywood Bowl) means, over and above a stage set you could stick in a van, there was nothing that much to look at. On stage, Blur the boys in the band Coxson, drummer Dave Rowntree, and bassist Alex James, add nothing much to the visual component -all of which lead to a presentation if not quite boring, certainly a little on the slow side.

Which left you with the music, and on an extended “Trimm Trab” the music came together so well it saved it from its role as the penultimate drag off 13, this and a longish singalong to “Girls And Boys” on the encore were musical highlights though musically Albarn was never a question,in fine voice -the years haven’t touch the instrument,  and the band, backed by a horn section, a string section, and back up singers, all used sparingly, sounded terrific.

The set opened with “Go Out”,the best song off this years too arty for its own good The Magic Whip’s  -an addictive drum and drone hook monster, and followed it with their shoegaze anthem “There’s No Other Way” off their first album Leisure. Damon has a lot of charm as a host, he is good looking, a ridiculously youthful looking 47 year old -his pretty boy round face and dash of dirty blonde hair, still exudes that choirboy most likely to be molested by the parish priest aura -despite having a teenage daughter himself.

The set continues very well for the first half hour with a “Lonesome Street” better than on the album, leading the way to “Bad Head” (“I know…”) and a surprise “End Of A Century”.  The latter is Parklife‘s best moment and also maybe Blur’s best song. A strange slice of London about the inevitably of time -and a song they should always roll out on stage because it mirrors our existence. At the time, Damon dubbed Parklife the aural equivalent to Martin Amis’ tough and cynical “London Fields” but that isn’t “End Of A Century” -a snapshot of a 20 something: “Give her effervescence, she needs a little sparkle,” Damon claims and provides it and what a blast to hear it again. The album happens in London’s fields but it is about growing older.

Then it takes forever for the show to get back on track again. Damon introduces “Country Sad Ballad Man” as being a New York type of song. Take it back. He also claims it is a Lou Reed type of song. Take it back. Finally, he claims Lou performed with him the last time Damon performed at MSG. OK, that is true, here is what I wrote: “Pretty early last night, round about when Lou Reed sucked so indelibly on a misjudged “Some Kind Of Nature”, I realized this was going to be an unsavable unmitigated disaster.” Kudos, Damon.

From there till “Tender” things slow to a crawl and then “Parklife”? No Fred Armisen and no, they couldn’t get Mike Myers out either, so instead they brought out some audience members and it is a joyful singalong so who cares, right? They follow it with”Song 2″ –pleezed ta meetcha! The band coulda done a little more with it, and personally, I’d have held it for two songs.”To The End” and “This Is A Low” closed out the set before a terrific “Stereotype”, “Girls And Boys”, a mistake “For Tomorrow” and a feel good “The Universal” and a cliched “love’s the greatest thing” ended the evening.

If Blur had taken away and shot at dawn “Thought I Was A Spaceman” and substituted “For Tomorrow” with “Chemical World”, closed it up with “Popscene” and found room for “Country House”, I would be much happier but really, this was a pretty good set. A low key charmer, which if it had its lulls we can just blame it on the age thing and the flogging of an iffy album and be more than happy to see the elder statesmen of Britpop again after all these years. Next time, Blur should cut down on their porklife and get some exercise.

Grade: B+

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