Live Music + Gig Reviews

Blur @ City Hall, Newcastle

28 May 2023

A warm up show ahead of bigger events over the summer proves a joyous and emotional occasion that confirms the four piece are still one of the most loved bands of their generation

Blur at Newcastle City Hall (Photo: Tom Pallant)

Blur at Newcastle City Hall (Photo: Tom Pallant)

When Blur announced at the end of 2022 that they would be playing a handful of dates later in 2023 (including two shows at Wembley Stadium in July) it seemed on the surface just to be one of their quasi-regular reunions, a chance for the band to re-establish their relationships and for fans to once again enjoy their much loved songs in person. The more recent news that they would also be releasing their ninth album The Ballad Of Darren in July however revealed that these shows weren’t just a brief coming together but effectively a new chapter in the band’s history.

Ahead of their appearance at Wembley they announced four warm up shows in Colchester, Eastbourne, Wolverhampton and Newcastle which gave them a chance to reacquaint themselves with their back catalogue. The last of these was at Newcastle’s City Hall and was to see the band in fine spirits, clearly loving every minute of being back together and playing live again.

It might not have been explicitly stated but these shows seemed to be an unofficial 30th celebration of their 1993 album Modern Life Is Rubbish with several tracks given an airing over the course of the four warm up shows. The focus on the album and its 1994 follow up Parklife were very much to be maintained during this show.

Their decision to start with a new track, St Charles Square, might have resulted in a slightly muted opening but, alongside The Narcissist which appeared later in the encore, boded well for the new album. The early stages saw them revisit some of their most celebrated moments from their formative years, namely exuberant versions of There’s No Other Way and Popscene, the latter still a thrilling blast of musical adrenaline. Albarn is clearly energised to the max, pacing the stage, spraying the front rows with water from cups, pointing out individuals and generally working the crowd. He comments on how the audience at Wolverhampton “had spirit” which seems to give the fans present tonight extra incentive to up the intensity and after a particularly emphatic reaction to Beetlebum, Albarn gives his verdict that the north east crowd might have edged it in the volume stakes.

The focus on their earlier Britpop era output meant nothing was played from The Magic Whip while Think Tank was only represented by the plaintively beautiful Out Of Time (which has continued to appear in Damon Albarn solo show setlists in recent years). It might have made for a slightly imbalanced show in terms of album representation but no one inside the venue was complaining. Both deep cuts and hits from Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife continued to flow, meanwhile. While it was expected that the likes of Chemical World and For Tomorrow would feature, the presence of Villa Rosie, Advert and Sunday Sunday were less anticipated but equally euphoric. Albarn even attempted to play the instrumental Intermission before abandoning it half way through. 

As for the Parklife selections – the likes of This Is A Low, End Of A Century and To The End resulted in joyous mass singalongs while the title track and Girls And Boys were raucous and electrifying. They even managed to include a version of Bank Holiday (apparently the first live airing since 1997). It’s delivered at the second attempt after Graham Coxon halts the first due to Dave Rowntree coming in early on drums (“Hold on, hold on, I start this fucking song!). When finished Albarn reflects lightheartedly, “the songs we’ve had to learn again for you”, almost revealing an element of disbelief that throwaway tracks like this have been resurrected. Amid all the earlier material they throw in a magnificent version of Trimm Trabb from 13 and Coxon takes over on vocals for an effervescent Coffee & TV.

The explosive Song 2 naturally appears late in the main set to provide further ignition and the encore sees cathartic renditions of Tender and The Universal close off a joyous and emotional show that proved how, despite their time away, they are still one of the most loved bands of their generation and are able to deliver life-affirmingly brilliant live experiences.

Blur played: St. Charles Square, There’s No Other Way, Popscene, Tracy Jacks, Chemical World, Young & Lovely, Beetlebum, Trimm Trabb, Villa Rosie, Coffee & TV, Out Of Time, End Of A Century, Parklife, Intermission, To The End, Sunday Sunday, Advert, Bank Holiday, Song 2, This Is A Low. Encore: Girls & Boys, The Narcissist, Tender, For Tomorrow, The Universal

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