Whilst I have never claimed to being even remotely objective in any of my writing, the slightest pretence that this may have existed has been cast aside in this review, much like Cristano Ronaldo’s sense of humility. For me, this was one of the best gigs of the last few years, despite being held at a venue that is almost as soulless as Festival Hall, Rod Laver Arena. Others may disagree, but that is only because they are wrong.
It was a fairly inauspicious start however and that was attributed to Jamie T. I must admit to not being a massive fan prior to seeing him play and seeing him play did not alter this greatly. I had the song Zombie described to me as being the “least worst song” and that was probably right. Unfortunately there were quite a few contenders vying for the title at the other end of the spectrum. Hard to pick a winner, but it was probably 368 on a points decision. Christ it was awful; a cross between The Streets and The Libertines, yet nowhere nearly as good as either of them. Adding more elements does not necessarily make things better; just look at Fernet Branca. If it only had one type of herb, it would be quite nice. Unfortunately it has 27, making the end result as far removed from nice as you could possibly imagine. However these thoughts placed me in the minority, as lots of people appeared to be enjoying it immensely. Maybe it reminded them of another time; the only time that I could think that was remotely similar is the time when I wished that I had lost my sense of hearing. In any case, if this was part of an elaborate ploy to not upstage the headliners, it certainly worked well.
Turns out that this wasn’t really necessary as Blur did fairly well on their own… seamless integration of a particularly weak pun, magnifique (kisses fingers). The scene was set with a selection of Mr. Whippy’s greatest hits including the showstopper, The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Then Blur made their way onto a Melbourne stage for the first time in over a decade and reacquainted themselves with the audience by having Damon hurl his seemingly never-ending supply of water bottles over all those in the immediate vicinity, including drummer Dave Rowntree. Not that this caused a great deal of undue stress to anyone affected, especially as it was followed by Damon’s sojourn amongst the audience throughout Trimm Trabb. This formed part of a setlist that spanned all 8 albums, including the recently released and mildly depressing The Magic Whip. I Thought I Was A Spaceman saw Damon having a bit of a lie down whilst channelling a Ziggy Stardust vibe and taking a slight detour via the Mann’s Planet from Interstellar; packed full of isolation and alienation. If there was any doubt that life outside of the confines of Earth is absolutely terrifying, then both Interstellar and Gravity dispel them with aplomb. Space, you just wouldn’t go there, would you? Better off heading to Central America which is closer, cheaper, has better food, better scenery and an infinitely lower chance of spinning out in the vacuum of space for all eternity or at least until your oxygen runs out or you are pummelled into kitty litter by jettisoned bits of the International Space Station.
Aside from songs from The Magic Whip, this was pretty much a greatest hits set and the band seemed pretty content with that. Alex James’ wandering, loping style is much more in keeping with an award winning cheesemaker than that of his previous life as a raging coke fiend. Graham Coxon was a man possessed with the guitar except for when he took on vocal duties for Coffee and TV and Tender. When singing, he stepped seamlessly into soothing lullaby mode, despite Damon’s best attempts to distract him using only his mouth and the end of his microphone stand. Tender also provided an opportunity for the full Blur experience to be unleashed, including the backing vocal, percussion, keys and horn sections. Whilst it lacked the 5 minute crowd singalong after the song actually finished that was experienced at Primavera Sound in 2013, it was still pretty special. Plus, it came with the added advantage of not commencing at 1 in the morning on what was possibly the coldest night that Barcelona had ever experienced, which also made it less than ideal for waiting around for The Knife to start at 4 o’clock. Ils sont fous ces Espagnols…
Parklife was greeted with both an organised and completely disorganised stage invasion; the organised bit was when Damon invited a couple of kids who probably weren’t even as old as Think Tank on stage and the completely disorganised was via some random, who came on called out a few “so many people” and then jumped off the other side of the stage. Damon even subconsciously pre-empted the encore closer The Universal by getting the words wrong midway through. Did it matter? Um no, not really. The crowd more than made up for that with their best pogoing and quasi-geezer accents. This Is A Low closed out the main set and the lighting used amazingly gave Rod Laver Arena the appearance of a turn of the century grand ballroom. This was somewhat fitting to provide a sepia tinged retrospective on one of the dominant players in the Britpop explosion of the early nineties which is now a frighteningly long time ago.
The highlights were plentiful and given the enormity of the back catalogue, there was always going to be call for other classics that unfortunately didn’t make the cut. The call for Wonderwall wasn’t funny the first seven times, but by the eighth, it was hilarious. Oh no, that’s right, it wasn’t. For those who were hoping to hear only songs that were written in the last century, there was probably a bit of disappointment, but the quality of those in conjunction with those written after ensured a thoroughly engrossing set. The Magic Whip shows a band not satisfied with resting on their laurels and willing to continue to evolve. It would just be nice if they evolved in a slightly more Supergrass, slightly less Morrissey type feel.