Live Review: Blur at Wembley Stadium, a Weekend Decades in the Making

Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
Britpop legends Blur spoiled the Wembley crowd with a setlist packed full of classics at their triumphant, decades-in-the-making stadium shows.

These were shows built to celebrate Blur’s triple assault of albums forged in the fire of Cool Britannia, and the band were unapologetic about giving London what they came here for.

Blur could scarcely have asked for a better career over the last 30 years. They’ve done it all, several times over, and it would be easy to assume that there was no milestone left to accomplish for the Britpop kings. But the wide-eyed joy of the band at seeing the crowd as they entered the stage each night shows they are still in the game for all the right reasons, and that sometimes, you have to wait years for the right moment to reveal itself. When Damon Albarn broke down halfway through the Sunday set in a display of raw emotion, it was clear that playing Wembley Stadium was a very special moment for the four best friends from Colchester.

These shows were somehow Blur’s debut outing at Wembley Stadium, a box that was way overdue for ticking. To fit the occasion, the band spread a stellar list of supports across the weekend, from legendary acts such as Paul Weller and The Selecter, to up-and-comers Jockstrap and Self Esteem. Such an eclectic line-up reflects Blur’s love for all that is unique and weird in music. Oh, and they also had 8-time World Snooker Champion Steve Davies (no, really) DJing between sets.

For such a grand occasion, Blur made for understated headliners. The visual elements were sparse for a stadium concert, the band using simple effects on screen for an uncomplicated, consistent vibe. Walking on unceremoniously to “The Debt Collector,” Blur got straight down to business, opening with their most recent single “St. Charles Square,” off their recently-released ninth studio album, The Ballad of Darren.

The Ballad of Darren - Blur
The Ballad of Darren – Blur

The crowd didn’t fully warm to this, but things really got going when Graham Coxon’s guitar rang out with the unmistakable intro riff to “There’s No Other Way,” the band’s ‘91 Top 10 hit.

From this point, the set was a tidal wave of their mid-’90s output. These were shows built to celebrate Blur’s triple assault of albums forged in the fire of Cool Britannia, and the band were unapologetic about giving London what they came here for.

She says there’s ants in the carpet, dirty little monsters
Eating all the morsels, picking up the rubbish
Give her effervescence, she needs a bit of sparkle
Good morning TV, you’re looking so healthy

Blur’s back catalogue is a progressive journey of musical discovery, one which began with the false-start of Madchester-infused bagginess on Leisure, then their era-defining Britpop records, right through to their experimental pre-hiatus albums. Their first run yielded seven full LPs in 12 years, a prolific period which provided an array of noisy guitar tunes, lo-fi jams and straight-up pop rock bangers. While there have been releases since, no one would deny that this first run is what made the band so popular.

Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

Arranging such disparate styles into a coherent setlist is no mean feat, but due to the band’s natural showmanship and energy, they were able to pull off a monster slog of 26 songs with no issues. Graham Coxon was utterly beside himself on both nights, lapping up the reaction from the crowd as he enthusiastically slammed out the idiosyncratic guitarwork which gave Blur an edge during their heyday. The backing section played it cooler; Dave Rowntree allowing himself a few smiles to camera between drum fills, while Alex James exuded ultimate bass-player cool with a pair of ludicrously tight jeans and a couple of cigarettes.

Damon Albarn commanded the crowd’s focus in the main. He has become an effortlessly brilliant frontman over the years, gazing dreamily into the sea of phone torches for the slower ballads, while jumping around like a eight year old child that’s just downed two litres of Pepsi on heavy bops. He entertained the crowd between songs with silly jokes and rambling speeches, while sometimes taking himself to the barrier for emotional connections with the fans at the front. All-in-all, the band were clearly loving every moment and taking the opportunity to drink in what will surely be two of the best nights of their lives.

It’s got nothing to do with your
Vorsprung durch Technik, you know.

And it’s not about you joggers,
Who go round, and round, and round, and round…

The energetic peak each night came with the back-to-back choice of “Country House” and “Parklife,” two songs which are ubiquitous in the British psyche; pure Britpop staples that transcend the genre and have become cultural entities in their own right. Phil Daniels was wheeled out (quite literally, in a roadworker’s tent) to perform his spoken word poetry on “Parklife.” This was the height of the madness on stage, he and Albarn darting around with the boyish energy of two uncles after far too much champagne at a family wedding. The crowd fed off this unfettered craziness and belted out the chorus for all of London to hear.

If any politicians are reading this, making “Parklife” the new national anthem could be a table-turning policy in next year’s election.

Just a thought.

Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis
Blur © Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

It was one of the only extravagant moments in a set which felt about as intimate as a show in an 89,000 seater stadium can be.

There were inevitable inclusions in the setlist. No Blur concert is complete without “Beetlebum,” “Song 2,” or “Coffee and TV,” and they were all eagerly received by the crowd. But it’s the fan favourites and deep cuts which made this special. “Tracy Jacks,” “End of a Century,” “Villa Rosie,” “To the End,” “Trimm Trabb,” these are beloved and important songs for Blur’s fanbase, and were carefully attended to by the band. Early single “Popscene” was a surprise addition, as was the full band rendition of “Lot 105” – the first time they had done this since 1994.

As the sun set and the lights came up, Blur completed their pre-encore set with a thoughtfully poignant performance of “This Is A Low.” The show wasn’t nearly over however, and the band came back on for 30 minutes each night to treat the crowd to half a dozen more songs. Indie-disco classic “Girls & Boys” saw Damon sporting a reproduced Fila jacket from the video, as he proudly announced on Saturday night. “Tender” was a precious moment, with the band inviting on the London Community Gospel Choir to make for a wonderfully uplifting version of one of their most emotionally honest songs.

No one here is alone, satellites in every homeYes The Universal’s here, here for everyone
Every paper that you read,
ays tomorrow is your lucky day
Well, here’s your lucky day

Epic ‘95 single “The Universal” was the easy choice for the final song of the night. Dripping with beautiful string sections, it was a rare moment of pathos from their ultra-sarcastic album The Great Escape. The suspended mirrorballs that had hung silently in the sky all day were coated in light, casting their beams down to the audience below. It was one of the only extravagant moments in a set which felt about as intimate as a show in an 89,000 seater stadium can be.

This was a weekend for the ages, the fans, and most importantly, the band themselves.

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The Ballad of Darren - Blur

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