Damon: The Omen

Blur, The Munchenbryggeriet, Stockholm:
delivering a taste of things to come from their new album '13' to bemused Scandinavians

From Select magazine, April 1999. Review by Ian Harrison. Photo by Ed Sirrs.

In the Munchenbryggeriet toilets ten minutes before Blur's 9pm showtime, an emphatically drunk Swede is reeling back and forth, asking each patron in turn a serious question. "Do you," he booms, "like The Blur?"

As everyone present has come to see them, you'd think the answer was fairly obvious. Tonight, however, Blur are playing '13', the new album which has, according to rumour, only one radio-friendly song on it. The rest is freakish, experimental stuff they jammed and edited down, after filling their heads with music that only vinyl-retentive types are into, like Krautrock and Pavement.

So, they may be a fan of 'The Blur' of decades' standing, but there's nothing to say you wouldn't leave tonight inwardly lauding The Charlatans for being such a dependable bunch.

After two low-key British shows, they're here playing '13' to their European press representatives in an ex-brewery done up like an enormous arts centre. Pre-gig, a Euro-friendly set of restrained drum'n'bass entertains the smart, healthy Swede youth, who are placid and expectant - apart from a trio of drunken skinheads. Rabid cheering shows they clearly suspect nothing, as Blur slouch on wearing the washed-out kids' clothes they've settled on now. The only stage decoration is a curiously Gay Dad-esque toilet figure-style sign.

As Alex lingers at the front of the stage, while Graham starts to pluck the intro to 'Tender', Damon picks up his acoustic and grins over at Dave. "We're going to play our new album, '13', from beginning to end for you," he explains to uncomprehending hysteria, as Alex starts plucking at a stand-up bass and someone lights a sparkler in the crowd. Is this the cue for a warming, good-time singalong?

Tellingly, minus the gospel choir, there are far more teeth to the live version of the album's charge-leading single. Graham wastes no time shovelling on the guitar effects until a groove starts up. The "Get through it" line is delivered with a snarl, boosting suggestions that the fractured atmosphere of '13' is not unrelated to Damon and Justine's break-up.

Even stronger than on record, 'Bugman' is an evil thrash, Graham's great sandblasts of feedback cueing spasms from Damon. He leaps and jabbers like a sugar-allergic kid who's just eaten a tea chest of the stuff.

Somewhat incongruously, there's also some dazed, amiable banter between the two. "Here's an old song I found in a box," announces Damon in a lingering gap before 'Swamp Song'. "Don't do that, it freaks me out," whines Graham. Damon then begins impersonating an Elvis impersonator. Alex remains curiously stone-faced throughout. It's like we're seeing a rehearsal, or else Blur are confusing not-knowing-the-songs with improvisation.

The ubiquitous walls of feedback and distortion start to tell on the fans, most of whom, it's a safe bet, won't be aware that Damon has been name-checking deceased free-jazz guru Sun Ra in interviews. By '1992', practically all cheering has frizzled out. With the band immersed in red light, it's all as pretty as someone talking about how their girlfriend left them usually is.

One of the skinheads gamely pogos as 'B.L.U.R.E.M.I.' ends stupid-fast, and Alex raises his eyebrow at the crowd with his foot on the drum riser. From this most literate and coherent of bands, it's becoming a confusing spectacle, a far cry from the performance that Damon's homely black Fred Perry would suggest.

When Damon introduces 'Battle' in slack-jawed cockney (no, it's not called 'Bowel'), there follows the first indication that Blur have been investigating the rhythmic expanses of Can. Damon hangs on his microphone as the track surges into pulsing dub. 'Trailerpark' continues echoing 'Tago Mago'-era Can, with Dave and Alex caning the riff like they've been doing it all their lives. Alex even shakes his rear for a millisecond. Thankfully, the cheers return.

'No Distance Left To Run' begins with Damon tangling the microphone chord up in his acoustic. "I'm in a mess now," he says, but as it comes forth, all is suddenly clarity. Genuinely affecting and naked, with even Graham's squalling effects pedals muted out of respect, this low-key airing of '13' concludes successfully.

It's something of a shame when they troop back on and Damon declares that it's time for old stuff. The relieved pandemonium that greets the interminable opening notes of 'Beetlebum' lights up the venue like never before, but despite Graham's wall of feedback, the idea that Blur have burned their boats is disappointingly compromised.

Out come 'There's No Other Way' (the line "You've taken the fun out of everything" delivered very pointedly) and a glorious 'Popscene' (the song that best bridges the new and old Blurs). The final 'Song 2', where Albarn's mic picks up the screams as he invades the crowd, seems to blow away all that experimental stuff entirely, leaving the crowd more blissful than healthily confused.

At the post-show drink-up, Damon enters wearing a donkey jacket - he hasn't gone that arty.

Select finds him admitting tonight's screams were "very AC/DC, very Black Sabbath" to a posse of intrigued Swedish Blur fans. So Damon, is it good to clear the boards?

"It's good," he smiles. "I feel very, very lucky to be allowed to do this." He puts on a Frank Butcher voice to add, "But we're still the same old people."

Arriving soon after, Graham agrees that almost falling on their arse keeps it exciting, but adds he still doesn't want to tour Britain. "Can't be arsed," he reasons. One-off events, however, and lots of TV are in prospect. Soon enough, he's heroically spannered and is calling all security men within hearing range "c***s".

It would seem, then, that the supposed commercial suicide of 'Blur' may actually be fulfilled by '13'. There's nothing on the album that will fit onto a Pentium ad. This may be Blur's resignation from fame, but there's rare courage in that. In answer to the drunken toilet interrogator: Yes, we do like The Blur.
by scummy | 2008-01-25 01:03


by scummy


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