Did you know that beyond appearances at Coachella (which is decently far east in Indio) that Blur has not played a show in Los Angeles since 2003? It’s true. The titans of British indie pop last played here outside of the big one in the desert at the Wiltern. A good size club to be sure, but nothing compared to the unending crowds they’re used to back in the UK. Yes, be it fairly or unfairly, the band has been saddled in the USA as that band that did the “whoo hoo” song. Diehard music snobs and anglophiles can fill your ears with the finer points of the band’s genius, but something just never crossed the pond as to the merits of their art. It’s a wrap that’s hard to beat, and one that’s surely hamstrung Suede too.
In the middle of what can be called a victory lap of their recent reunion, the various members have kept busy since Blur’s initial demise and all the way up through now. Singer Damon Albarn pretty much never stopped creating, pioneering other brilliant projects such as Gorillaz, The Good, The Band and the Queen, Rocket Juice and the Moon and more. Graham Coxon has done a number of solid solo albums. Dave Rowntree briefly directed a cartoon show called Empire Square. Alex James apparently made cheese. Now, they have a new album The Magic Whip and appear to be coming back to regular business. Though, this show at tonight’s legendary Hollywood Bowl was perhaps wisely one of only two shows in the USA this year for the band (the other is Madison Square Garden in New York City). Definitely better to look like you can pack in the two most important venues in America rather than play more intimate theaters across the country.
The results were strong, if not a bit less than transcendent. Three songs from their new album were doled out early (“Go Out,” “Lonesome Street,” “Ice Cream Man”) sequenced around “There’s No Other Way” (from their first album Leisure), “Badhead” and “Coffee & TV.” It’s not to say that The Magic Whip material is bad by any means, but when the lion’s share of the audience has waited more than a decade to see you live, or hasn’t see you yet at all, it’s best to come out swinging with songs people have been aching to hear rather than new material not yet germinated. Albarn quipped, “I’m much more proficient with a four string guitar,” explaining how early on he got used to playing without the bottom two strings adding, “I never really progressed from there,” before heading into “Caravan.” “Beetlebum” received perhaps the warmest reception of any song of the night. “Trim Trabb” demonstrated the importance of Coxon’s excellent guitar work while “Tender” soared largely behind Albarn’s heartfelt delivery.
After “Tender,” quite randomly, Albarn sang an impromptu political rhyme repeatedly, “Please don’t vote for Trump / He’s such a chump,” leaving no doubts about his feelings about our country’s current conservative presidential frontrunner. The crowd got a special treat after that, Albarn brought out comedian Fred Armisen for a special edition of one of their most beloved songs, “Parklife.” Armisen rewrote all Phil Daniels’ Brit-themed narration turning into a humorous trek about LA locales and society. A sample lyric amidst the many insider references was, “I go to the dog park, then I go to the cat park. It gives me a huge sense of well being.” Parklife!
The set proper closed out with “Song 2” (blissfully short and sweet), “To The End” and “This is A Low.” All in all, that would have made for a pretty solid ending to the show. They came back for the requisite encore for “Stereotypes,” “Girls and Boys,” “For Tomorrow” and finally “The Universal” from The Great Escape. Albarn commented to the crowd at the beginning of their encore, “I was somewhat nervous about tonight.” This was one of several nods to being “underachievers” as he put it in America. Evidently, the difference in fame between Europe and here is not lost on the band. Still, the real fans in attendance loved what they heard and the band worked hard to put on the best show they could. It’s fair to say Blur deserve to be able to state they earned the right to headline the Hollywood Bowl and bring a huge crowd together. It may never be that they command 70,000+ people on American soil the way they can easily on the other side of the Atlantic, but that’s okay. They’ve earned their place and it’s nothing to sneeze at.
There’s No Other Way
Ice Cream Man
Coffee & TV
Out of Time
Thought I Was a Space Man
Parklife with Fred Armisen
To the End
This is a Low
Girls and Boys