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Astoria, London on 9th May 2003
Reviewed by DanF on 18th June 2003

BLUR have been away for what seems like an age. Their last album (1999's 13) was critically mauled and their A-Sides tour of the same year was seen as lacklustre, and opinion was that the band were a spent force.

But it's not 1999 anymore. This gig, the second of five sold out nights at London's intimate Astoria venue, happens just 2 days before the band's newest studio album, Think Tank, crashes into the album charts at number 1, and after months of press rumours about why they split with founding member Graham Coxon.

That unfortunate event is mentioned only once tonight, when Damon Albarn addresses it without hesitation, saying that he hoped the differences could be resolved in time. But that doesn't matter, because tonight Blur are back, and they're back in full force, kicking and screaming at those who had written them off.

Opener 'Ambulance' is epic and graceful, and the crowd sing along with the haunting refrain of "i ain't got nothing to be scared of". The opening riff of 'Beetlebum', 3 songs in (and first old track), is met with a crowd response bordering on the hysteric, bettered only by the pogo-frenzy that explodes when the band launch into 'Girls & Boys' straight afterwards. With an enhanced line-up for the new material (they are joined by percussionists, keyboardists and backing singers), the band look to be enjoying themselves on stage, and dedicate a large portion of the set to new material.

However, this isn't some new "Year Zero" Blur, as the classics are also wheeled out - 'For Tomorrow','Trimm Trabb' 'Topman' and 'Badhead' all receive ecstatic crowd response, and the band takes the bold step of running 'Song 2' straight after it's natural successor, future single 'Crazy Beat', a Fatboy Slim-meets-Blur-era rock-out that sees Damon throw himself into the crowd more than once.

'Popscene' appears in the encore, drenched in distortion and with Damon screaming "THIS ONE IS FROM NINETEEN-NINETY-TWO" as waves of guitar hit the crowd, whilst the 57-second thrash of "We've Got A File On You" is played twice. The encore is closed with Parklife's 'This Is A Low', which ends the show with much the same sentiment as 'Ambulance' opened it, as the crowd sings along with the chorus line of "this is a low / but it won't hurt you".

Blur may have been away for a long time, but they're back with a fantastic new album and with renewed energy to play live - as is said, good things come to those who wait. Five stars, without a doubt.

Rating: 10/10
Website: www.blur.co.uk


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