Once I’d checked my bag and coat in at Rod Laver Arena’s efficient cloakroom, strangers immediately started commenting on my t-shirt. At first I merely gave them a non-committal thanks, for I have lots of nice t-shirts bearing cartoon motifs which prompt my grandmother to ask ‘When are you going to start dressing like an adult?’ When I started fielding questions about if the shirt was from one of this evening’s merchandise stands or from a previous tour, I was confused: I’d worn my old Blur t-shirts into the ground several years ago. A check reminded me that I was wearing my Dan Potthast merch, and I realised that passers-by were answering the question of ‘Dan Who?‘ with ‘Dan Abnormal.’
Blur, with Jamie T.,
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, July 28, 2015…
I have heard a lot about the evening’s opening act Jamie T., but I don’t think I’d ever actually heard his songs. I recalled comparisons to Arctic Monkeys at around the time that Arctic Monkeys were promoting their new sound and Alex Turner’s new classic rock hairstyle. Jamie T. seemed to have a small yet extremely dedicated segment of supporters in attendance, bopping wildly and cheering loudly to tunes which seemed familiar to me, though not immediately recognisable. It was a set which inspired me to listen out for more from the artist, but not to rush out to the record shop yet.
I also caught myself swinging along with those enthusiastic Jamie T. fans during his set, prompting a woman in the audience nearby to shout ‘Dickhead alert!’ at me at the end of the final song, too loudly considering her proximity to me. I asked her what she meant, and she responded ‘Have you heard of personal space? You’re right inside of mine, cunt!’
I had bopped to the music, but hadn’t actually shifted position in the general admission section, and suggested to her that she had, in fact, moved towards me, as was common practice at concerts. She turned to her tall male companion, and spat at him ‘This is why I said I hate standing at concerts. I used to enjoy going to concerts till I started going out with you. Now we are always standing and meeting idiots like this!‘ she gestured to me.
I asked why she came to the show since she had no interest in it. ‘Obviously because my boyfriend likes Blur!’ she answered, as though that contained the explanation of why she was wilfully enduring an apparently painful experience.
Her continued rambling was drowned out by applause and an introductory compilation of icecream truck classics, in keeping with The Magic Whip theme, as the house lights dimmed. Damon Albarn bounded onto the stage, his band-mates offering waves, and then icecream truck chimes shifted into opener Go Out. This set the scene for what was clearly The Magic Whip tour, with at least half of the latest album’s songs getting a play this evening. Though being fantastic live translations from an excellent album (the aforementioned opener and Pyongyang particular highlights of the set,) the new material didn’t excite the majority of the audience as much as old favourites like Girls And Boys and Parklife (an unexpected inclusion, and a good live experience, despite being the song I usually skip on the CD.)
My concerns regarding the ability of a band who fit perfectly onto the modest temporary stage of Monash University’s Chisholm Hall on their last visit to fully utilise the arena setting were quickly allayed by the inclusion of a brass section and small choir – put to task during the crowd-pleasing sing-along Tender. Damon’s forays through the general admission audience all the way into the stalls during Trimm Trabb may have been overdoing the arena thing, but it seemed to delight those in the cheap seats. Meanwhile, songs played straight from the long gap between Blur’s visits were fantastic to finally hear live: 13‘s Coffee and TV was a hit with the crowd, whilst Think Tank‘s Out Of Timeproved a highlight of the entire night.
The set as a whole felt more refined, less punky, than the Blur of the past, with even the anticipated drop during Beetlebum given an almost Calypso makeover tonight (a divisive moment) but there was still plenty of time to jump around – Stereotypes and Song 2 had the room jumping. Meanwhile, the latter prompted the girlfriend from earlier in the night to complain anew that ‘There’s nothing left for them to play now! They can’t possibly stay on for much longer, can they? I mean, what are they going to do for the encore now?’
After being caught in an apparently spontaneous chant from Tender in lieu of the dreaded ‘One more song!’ after the main set ended, the group returned and answered the girlfriend’s question with the epic and surprisingly effective closer The Universal, a fine tune to show off not only that Blur have still got it, but also a showcase for their extended band’s touring vocal and horn section.