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REVIEW: BLUR – ROD LAVER ARENA, MELBOURNE

damonbester

BLUR, Rod Laver Arena Tuesday 28 July, 2015

For Blur, a band which provided the soundtrack to the lives of so many, there was always a danger that an Australian tour almost two decades since the last might tarnish some treasured memories. At Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, Damon Albarn and co quickly allayed any of those fears with a performance which was as vibrant and relevant as it was nostalgic.

Strolling onto stage spraying the audience (and probably a few photographic lenses too) with water from the get go, it was clear Albarn was in a larrikin mood. Launching into Go Out from their latest album, it set the scene for a Magic Whip-dominated set list with almost a third of the show’s tunes coming from the new record. Fortunately, The Magic Whip is a quality album and trippy tunes such as Thought I Was A Spaceman and Ghost Ship gave guitarist Graham Coxon an opportunity to shine amid the atmospheric effect of mood lighting and the giant mirror balls behind stage.

damonbestAlbarn charmed the audience with tales of his fondness for Melbourne and a revelation that he began writing The Magic Whip while in our city last year. His many forays into the audience and the invitation for a lucky few to join him on stage, made him even more endearing to the crowd. With Beetlebum the energy in the house rose a notch and the check box of hits began to claim ticks.

For this tour, Blur had brought their A game, with four smooth looking, Afro-American backing singers to the left and on the opposite side of the stage, a less sartorially-attired four-piece brass section. At the rear Mike Smith, who has also been part of the Gorillaz band, provided textural piano and synth. On drums, Dave Rowntree kept it eternally tight, while Alex James provided his signature loping bass lines, so much a part of the Blur DNA. Albarn’s vocal was astonishingly powerful, a trait which often gets buried in his other attractions.

As the more familiar Blur fare came such as Tender, Parklife, and Song 2, the standing room only floor erupted into pogo, reverberating up into the seated areas. Albarn responded with Ronaldo-like victory poses, urging the room-energy to lift even more.

An encore of Stereotypes, Girls & Boys, and For Tomorrow further fuelled the euphoria. Albarn and band had held the Melbourne audience in the palm of their hands all night, and suitably finished with the lyrical refrain of ‘just let go’ from The Universal, off the band’s The Great Escape album.

It took 12 long years for Blur to follow up Think Tank with The Magic Whip. With a new Gorillaz project a priority for Albarn, the future of Blur is unclear. However, for those in the Rod Laver Arena audience who have followed Blur since they were four young geezers from London, they got to witness them at least once as one of the world’s greatest bands.

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