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Blur - Wembley Stadium, London, 9/7/2023

  by Richard Lewis

published: 25 / 10 / 2023

Blur - Wembley Stadium, London, 9/7/2023

On home turf for the second of two Wembley Stadium shows, Blur are on exceptional, energized, poignant form. Richard Lewis reviews Thirty years since a struggling London indie band issued an album that did much to lay the foundations of what became known as Britpop, Blur are headlining Wembley Stadium. The LP in question, ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ saw the out of vogue quartet pull off a stunning volte face in their fortunes and shape British music for the remainder of the decade. Back then, the very concept of an “indie band” selling out Wembley Arena, let alone its hulking national stadium neighbour would have unimaginable. And yet, here we are on the second night, swiftly added to the initial date which sold out almost instantly. As wonky ‘Parklife’ instrumental ‘The Debt Collector’ strikes up over the PA, the latter day Fab Four, stacked alphabetically: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree appear onstage. The angular ‘Scary Monsters’-esque rush of new track ‘St. Charles’ Square’ from forthcoming ninth album ‘The Ballad of Darren’ gets proceedings underway, before winding the clock right back to the beginning with 1991 debut hit ‘There’s No Other Way’. With only a dozen or so small warm up gigs under their belts in preparation for the Wembley shows, the twin elements of a partisan home crowd and their debut appearances at the venue give the quartet an almost tangible boost. The sheer volume of Blur’s A-list material is near-staggering as hit after hit is essayed: scabrous self-parody ‘Stereotypes’, Kinks-ian gem ‘Tracy Jacks’, gorgeous reconciliation ballad ‘To the End’ and Beatles-aping chamber pop piece ‘End of A Century’ all sounding timeless. Live favourites, astringent punk blasts ‘Popscene’, ‘Advert’ and a moshpit provoking ‘Song 2’ are dispatched with the same velocity of old, courtesy of Dave Rowntree behind the kit. A stripey roadworks tent, appears at the side of the stage for Phil Daniels to bound out of, to guest on a blazing rendition of ‘Parklife’. For a group who did much to create Britpop and then spent several years running away from it, the band now seem entirely comfortable with their past. A satisfyingly large chunk of the aforementioned ‘Modern Life…’ is essayed, US alt. rock banger ‘Oily Water’, depressingly relevant with the myriad sewage dumping news stories, ‘Villa Rosie’, never played live ensnares with its “Whoo-hoo” hook and ‘For Tomorrow’ joins ‘Waterloo Sunset’ in the pantheon of great London songs. When the quartet last toured in 2012, including a headline slot at Hyde Park, their live line-up had unnecessarily swelled to include a horn section and backing singers. Here, with the exception of stalwart sideman Mike Smith on keys andoccasional sax, satisfyingly the priginal group line- up tackle the set by themselves, with Dave now adding backing vocals and Damon on rhythm guitar. Clearly enjoying themselves, Coxon in particular appears to be having an absolute ball. Sporting a wide grin every time the camera pans over to him, the best guitarist of his generation sobriquets are even more apparent several decades on. For a singer who was accused by some critics for not being “authentic” as many of lyric sheets were character studies, Damon Albarn is unafraid to show his emotions. Paying tribute to Coxon, “Friends since we were twelve years old” following his solo turn on lead vocals for ‘Coffee + TV’, the singer bursts into tears prior to a poignant rendition of ‘Under the Westway’. A musician who once self-deprecatingly opined that “Bass playing is all about joining in”, Alex James remains a joiner-inner of exceptional ability, supplying the spine of misanthropic sleaze disco banger ‘Girls & Boys’. Returning for the encores ‘Tender’ sees the London Community Gospel Choir appear onstage to create possibly the standout moment of the night. Always able to release a pitch-perfect comeback single ‘The Narcissist’ is no exception. Played as the penultimate song of the evening, its hookline “I’ll shine a light on you/I know you’ll shine it back on me” is chorused like an old favourite. Despite its ubiquity soundtracking emergency boiler repair ads and whatever else for British Gas these past few decades, ‘The Universal’ remains a stunningly beautiful song. The intro sees the two giant mirrorballs hoisted above the pitch beam out across the darkening venue, bringing an exceptional, poignant evening to a close. With no plans mooted beyond this year and Albarn doubtless working on several different projects at once following the tour’s conclusion, Blur will be laid to rest once more. Several summers from now they’re highly likely to be back to do this all over again of course. See you there.

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Blur - Wembley Stadium, London, 9/7/2023

Blur - Wembley Stadium, London, 9/7/2023

Blur - Wembley Stadium, London, 9/7/2023

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