Fresh from winning the NME Award for Best Solo Artist, former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon headed up the awards tour show on Friday at the Hammersmith Palais. Coxon beat off stiff competition from The Streets and veteran indie favourite Morrissey but demonstrated just how much he deserved that award with an eclectic and thrilling set in front of a chilled out but receptive crowd.
Warming up that crowd was The Departure, a young band who have steadily been gathering acclaim during the past year. That praise has certainly affected their live performance and they played with a more assured confidence that was lacking in their earlier shows. They opened their set with the excellent single Be My Enemy. Its punchy opening is reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and it slowly evolves into a mishmash of Eighties bands.
This ’80s flavour is something that colours their whole set – it would be nice though to see them branch out into other styles to prevent them turning into a poor man’s Franz Ferdinand or The Killers as The Departure clearly have plenty of potential. Disappointingly, however, their new single, Lump In My Throat, which closed the set, was one of their weaker tunes.
The Departures carefully cultivated stage performance looked extremely contrived next to the effortless presence of Graham Coxon. Experience counts for everything and Coxon is certainly a man who is not short of experience. When you’re that good you can almost get away with turning up on stage half cut or stoned and although Coxon could barely string a sentence together it just added to his charm. His playing was impeccable, proving that he’s one of the best guitar players to come out of Britain during the last 20 years.
He kicked off with Spectacular from his Happiness In Magazines, the album responsible for bringing his solo material out of obscurity and into the mainstream. This was seamlessly followed by two further tracks from that album, No Good Time and Bittersweet Bundle of Misery. The live versions not only did the album recordings justice, but also added extra verve and sparkle. Coxon and his backing band were clearly rocking things up and it worked.
Given that Coxon is probably now old enough to have fathered some of his audience it only adds to the excitement of watching a man at the cutting edge of music making. For ’80s and ’90s kids, this is perhaps the closest thing theyll get to experiencing a punk gig. Out-of-tune vocals, jumping around, very loud guitars, plus the quirky attitude is a punk as it can get for an Essex boy.
He even complained that his best known song Freakin’ Out was “all over Channel 4 like a rash…a very itchy rash.” Clearly the anti-commercial attitude is something wasted on younger generations because this is the song they responded to with the most enthusiasm. And I’m sure that Coxon’s principles were forgotten when he started cashing the royalty cheques, too.
After an exhilarating, frenzied set, Coxon provided a more mellow encore. The gentle and beautiful All Over Me sounded sublime and the Spiritualized style instrumental was a further demonstration of Coxon’s ability on guitar, if a little lengthy and self-indulgent. In fact the crowd seemed a little redundant at this point.
Nonetheless this was a superb live experience. Graham Coxon is a unique and colourful talent and future material performed hinted at a lengthy and fruitful solo career ahead. Graham Coxon, you are something quite spectacular.