(Planet Me)
Friday, January 11, 2013
BLUR, Parklive, live 2012 DVD

So here we are again.Three years after the 2009 reunion, and the obligatory Hyde Park DVD, we come again to 17 of the same songs (and 8 different ones), performed in the same field three years later. The stage may be slightly different, but nothing else seems to have changed.

But what is the point? If you're Damon Albarn sometimes his restless urge doesn't reflect experimentation as much as it does running away. As Albarn grows older, and inevitably richer, he seems to often forget the life people live in favour of abstract or meaningless. Here, tonights concentrated Blur shows that Damon needs someone to argue with him. Someone to tell him “No.” Much like Morrissey and Prince, Albarn needs something to fight against. It is no wonder, after all, that Blur's final album was largely both openly fulfilling a contractual obligation and, without Graham Coxon to ground him, lacking in the essential earthiness and grit that made the rest of the band so powerful.

So, with all that in mind, what is the point? Is there a point? Other than that we could. Other than this would be an experience. One more night back in there.

From the opening bars of the opening song, tonights set is almost exclusively a museum of modern music : drawing mostly from 1994's Lightning-in-a-bottle “Parklife”, and 1999's stellar “13”, with a set that is both draws on greatest hits and revels in the odd obscurity, it feels curiously final, a measured confirmation.

But Blur are two bands : three, even. The first incarnation, from 1990 to 1995, saw Blur hone themselves into a ever narrower avenue – culminating in 1995's insular “The Great Escape.”, where a self-imposed exile of so-called Britishness saw the band become a parody of exaggerated stereotypes. 1997-2003 saw the next era : a more worldly, personal set of songs. And now? Blur hover between the two, with the last record, “Think Tank”, being both divorced from the British identity, and individual personality, to be a largely abstract record about well... I don't know what.

At times, Blur are an extension of an art project : the opening quartet – all taken from “Parklife” are character songs, with Damon playing a character. At times, especially on “Jubilee” and “London Loves”, he looks almost bored : not sincere, but acting, playing a role, projecting an image of a British Man, British Image#1. A man is never more himself than when he pretends to be someone else. Sometimes, and maybe this is the glint in his eye, he's playing a role of being a rock star, being someone he isn't. The way he swaggers across the stage, his robotic walk, the angle of learned stagecraft of reaching here, and doing this, and the crowd doing that,is an act : an imitation of a rock star, or a faked, staged sincerity. However, over time, as the band begin to combine their respective eras into a cohesive facade, Albarn switches easily – too easily – between sincere, staged, and something else. At times it feels that he, like anyone in any band, is playing a role of a rock star bearing his own name : but isn't it often the case that we are individuals playing a role of who we are? Lover, brother, father, son, all of these roles make up the someone that we are. We are often dozens of people at the same time.

I understand the need to have a defence or a pretence : a front to face the world with.

Thankfully, the band are sharp, and in Graham Coxon, they have a much needed X-Factor - he conjurs all kind of wonderful noises from a guitar, lost in music. The man is a genius in need of a muse. Albarn is a muse in need of a genius to temper his excess. The two need each other. Whether they know it or not. A later generations Morrissey and Marr.

They open with “Girls And Boys”. It is the finest pop music of theirs. If you thought Modern Life Was Rubbish then, wait until you see the future.

There's no real retrospective nostalgia as such : obvious choices are absent. But do you want a predictable nostalgia show? I was dreading the baggy explosion of the chronically over-rated, and lyrically vaccuous earlier stuff. Aside from a splendid “Sing” - the rarely played 1991 hymn – nothing from the 1991 debut gets an airing. Instead, we get a set that covers all periods – not just the usual “early stuff and greatest hits”. Therefore, we get rarely played material such as “Caramel”., “No Distance Left To Run” and “Young & Lovely””.

“Song 2” is thrown away mid set with barely a moments thought : the park leaps and collapses. Oh look! Another hit!

Blur have a shimmering, golden, important, cultural past behind them that is slowly becoming irrelevant the longer they have as an inactive force. At the end of the night, as “The Universal” glows, Blur have become some much more than they thought they could be : some kind of mythology, some kind of communal spokeperson for the millions, with songs that speak to us and for us : if nothing else, “The Universal” voices our eternal hope, that we live in the best of all possible world, and the worst at the same time, where it really, really could happen, and as the days fall away, as we fall out of time, as we grow older, as the progress of history past the end of the century, with no distance left to run, becomes some kind of unstoppable march to the end, that time is still ours to make a change.

Sure, it's just another concert DVD. Sure, it often feels like a remake of 2009's live DVD. But also, yes, these are some of the songs that changed our world.

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