Blur – The Magic Whip first impressions

Blur - Graham Coxon, Damon Albarn, Mode, London, Mar 20, 2015, by HelDavies, 01 (1280x720)On Friday, March 20, 2015, Blur played the entirety of The Magic Whip, the band’s first new album as a four-piece in over 10 years, for fans, competition winners and selected media at Mode, London.

A one-time video stream of the concert was broadcast tonight, so I thought I’d scribble down some impressions as I watched it. This is a summary of those impressions.

I remember watching The Good, the Bad & the Queen’s debut live show, streamed over a tiny, RealPlayer-powered video window on the BBC Electric Proms website in 2006. It was exciting, because you didn’t know what to expect.

There was some of that tonight, but the overriding feeling I got from the music – and the reaction of the live audience watching – was how arresting the show was. It flowed like water from a river.

Blur frontman Damon Albarn isn’t one for chitchat at his live shows nowadays. He prefers to coax the crowd into a heady state of bliss, drop the odd comment or acknowledgement of thanks, before bidding the crowd adieu. And the same resolve was in the eyes of guitarists Graham Coxon and Alex James, and drummer Dave Rowntree. There seemed to be a quiet contentment from the band in simply playing and seeing the audience’s reaction to their new music.

And what music. There will be plenty of critics and fans who will want to size up The Magic Whip in comparison to Parklife or The Great Escape. And you could do so. As Albarn has mentioned in early announcement interviews, at least some of the album has the feel of picture postcards, ice cream and British beaches in summertime (most notably on the summery ‘Ong Ong’, right down to the sprinkling of Mike Smith’s jaunty keyboard melody). But there is also a “darkness and depth” to it, as cover artwork designer Tony Hung has said.

Blur played the album from start to finish on the day (I believe the stream showed all the songs, but soft blends between the tracks following ‘Ice Cream Man’ and ‘Ghost Ship’, respectively, mean I can’t be sure). The music of The Magic Whip is vigorous, dreamy and melodic. Albarn has lost none of his virtuosity for poetic, socially-charged lyrics (“What you’ve got / It’s mass produced in somewhere hot”). Floating, drifting, wandering, that’s the vibe given off from ‘My Terracotta Heart’, which saw Albarn take up his acoustic guitar to join James and Coxon in creating its airy melody. The band-wide chants of “seven on me” during ‘New World Towers’ and the leery-sounding chorus of ‘Go Out’ already bear the signs of anthem favourites.

And speaking of anthems, the punchy ‘A Broadcast’ had the audience – myself included – going insane, with its loud, grunge-edged rock riffs. It’s the new ‘Song 2’, surely. The eerie ‘Thought I Was a Spaceman’ had a bit of Gorillaz’ ‘Empire Ants’ about it. There was a smoky, but beauty, twilight to ‘Pyongyang’. And some fantastic parallels between Chinese’s overcrowding and Britain’s mass of estates and terraced houses, borne from the marching band-beat and lyrics of ‘There Are Too Many of Us’.

There’s more to say – at lot more. But I’ll save that for later, when we’ve all had a chance to listen. For now, I’ll leave you with the words of one Blur fan in the audience that night, whose reaction immediately after the first song (‘Lonesome Street’) finished sums up my prevailing feeling about Blur’s comeback show: “That was f*cking awesome”.

Set list
Lonesome Street
New World Towers
Go Out
Ice Cream Man
Thought I Was a Spaceman
I Broadcast
My Terracotta Heart
There Are Too Many of Us
Ghost Ship
Pyongyang
Ong Ong
Mirrorball
Encore
Trouble In The Message Centre

Other reactions
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Image: HelDavies/Flickr-CC (See more of his Blur concert photos)

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