Thursday, October 22, 2015

Blur triumphant in first-ever Hollywood Bowl appearance

Blur in action at The Hollywood Bowl on October 20, 2015. / Photo: Kim Kinsler
Few English rock legends have been as criminally ignored in the U.S. as Blur.

Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Damon Albarn, lead guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree originally formed as Seymour in the late 1980s and became Blur in London in 1990. They then rose to fame in the the early 1990s releasing a number of outstanding albums including Leisure (1991), Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), Parklife (1994) and The Great Escape (1995).

Blur found its greatest success on this side of the Atlantic following the release of their self-titled 1997 album which included the hit "Song 2." However, even the undeniable hard-rocking "woo-hoo!" sing-along never brought the quartet enough success to see them headlining at the likes of prime-time venues such as the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Blur's artistic track record is decidedly in step with the group's success in virtually every other civilized corner of the planet where they are rightfully appreciated including Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as South and Central America.

A headlining appearance at Coachella in 2013 and the release of the highly-anticipated and critically-praised The Magic Whip (the band's first new studio album in 12 years was issued in early 2015) finally helped provide the momentum to inspire Blur to give the U.S. another try and schedule shows at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday, Oct. 20 and at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 23.

The adage "Better late than never" certainly rang true at the Hollywood Bowl on the most magic of nights. Performing before an enthusiastic crowd that was eager to take in the Britpop champion's much-beloved older songs as well as outstanding tracks from "The Magic Whip," the members of Blur and their touring ensemble (including back-up singers, a keyboardist and horn section) seemed to be trying to take in the spirit of the night as much as the members of the audience.
Damon Albarn playing his Taylor guitar at The Bowl.
Photo: Kim Kinsler

In this live setting, with Blur performing material from across its career, the band's magic couldn't have been more apparent. From the lush and melodic "Badhead" to the world music-tinged "Caravan" and decidedly-British sounding "Coffee & TV" (the latter featuring one of many times for Coxon to unleash his impressive guitar playing), Blur delivered the vast range of material with musical precision and emotional power. "Out of Time" was another early highlight, with Albarn adding shades to the song with his acoustic guitar playing, while Coxon infused his solo with a flamenco style. 

Blur are all about connecting with audiences and the band did that in full during the electronica-mining "Thought I Was a Spaceman" (off "The Magic Whip") when Albarn went far into the crowd to greet fans. Meanwhile, the other musicians steered the song ever onward into symphonic splendor. Coxon shared lead vocals on the song, and the stage itself was dazzled with artful beams of light adding to the effect.

There were wonderful touches throughout the show all night, including the neo-psychedelic "To the End" and regular set-ending "This is a Low," a potent theatrical rocker with Coxon firing up his guitar for the finish.

Albarn started the encore saying "Thank you so much. I was somewhat nervous about tonight," noting the band has long been aware of "underachieving in America."

But the festive sing- and clap-along tune "Girls & Boys," horn section-anchored "For Tomorrow" and grand "The Universal" closed the night in a way to ensure everyone in the crowd will long remember Blur's top-tier place in rock.
Courtney Barnett on Oct. 20. / Photo: Kim Kinsler

Opener Courtney Barnett opened the bill with a 35-minute set of original indie rock rooted around her rambling lyrics and freewheeling electric guitar playing. The 27-year-old Australian songstress is a unique voice in modern music, and showcased songs from her latest album "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit." Among the most memorable songs in her set were the anxious "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party" and jazzy "Small Poppies." Also effective was the melodic rocker "Dead Fox."

Blur setlist at The Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 20, 2015
Cool Blur stuff! / Photo: Kim Kinsler
Go Out / There's No Other Way / Lonesome Street / Badhead / Ghost Ship / Coffee & TV / Out of Time / Caravan / Beetlebum / Thought I Was a Spaceman / Trimm Trabb / Tender (outro - "Don't Fall for Trump..." / Parklife (with Fred Armisen) / Song 2 / To the End / This is a Low

Stereotypes / Girls & Boys / For Tomorrow / The Universal

Robert Kinsler

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