BT London Live Olympic Closing Ceremony Concert review
'Is this really it for Blur?'
Chris Eustace - 13 August 2012
After a tremendous Olympic fortnight, and a well-executed two weeks of bands and big screen sporting action in Hyde Park, tonight is London’s big finish – a “Best of British” concert, with the extra added intrigue of Blur returning to the scene of those memorable 2009 shows. The enthusiasm for the Games here is such that some almost seem disappointed when the big screen on the Main Stage cuts away from the France v Sweden handball match to begin the show.
Not for long though - Any grumbles about reformed bands hogging the limelight are nicely tempered by Bombay Bicycle Club’s opening set. With the band recently talked up as future Reading & Leeds headliners by Melvin Benn the other week, it’s clear that working their way up those festival bills has paid dividends, with Jack Steadman casting off his previous awkwardness to shout “We want to see your hands!” as ‘Your Eyes’ strikes up.
Not only that, they share tonight’s headliner’s trait of not just sticking to a tried-and-tested formula, sweeping through the compulsive tropical rhythms of ‘Always Like This’, the indie-punk of ‘Evening/Morning’ and the sprightly folk of ‘Ivy & Gold’, here given a pounding rockabilly makeover.
The irresistible electro-pop hooks of ‘Shuffle’ close things out, and you’re left feeling that Bombay are indeed one big hit album away from the top of the pile. (8.5/10)
New Order (8/10) are a bit slow out of the blocks, with ‘Crystal’ slightly below-par, but it’s a momentary blip, with Bernard Sumner going all boy scout as he promises “We’ll do our best for you” as ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Isolation’ set up, early mic problems notwithstanding, a sublime ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’.
“I wish it was raining again” grins Barney as things get a bit sweaty on stage, but thankfully for the Hyde Park crowd, he doesn’t get his way. Instead, we’re treated to four of British pop’s most seismic moments back-to-back, with an Ibiza-influenced update of ‘True Faith’ leading into a totemic ‘Blue Monday’.
The sun comes back out as ‘Temptation’ starts up – you can’t buy special effects like that – before we're left with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Sumner’s yelped “COME ON!” during the chorus has always sounded a bit incongruous, but as images of Ian Curtis appear on the screen to huge cheers, it transcends its desperate lyrics to become an unlikely, but bona fide, celebration.
The Specials (8.5/10) go down a storm in the evening sunshine, with ‘Do The Dog’ preventing any kind of lull setting in. Terry Hall is as deadpan as always, to the point that when he says “This next song's called ‘Chariots Of Fire’, everyone takes him at his word. “Er…that was a joke,” he shrugs, before they launch into ‘Gangsters’ instead.
‘Monkey Man’ has the whole park doing some serious skanking, while those with sore heads nod ruefully along with a string-assisted ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, but the party’s back on as everyone to a man sings along to ‘A Message To You Rudy’, dedicated to the Olympic volunteers.
As they end on a fizzing, pogo-friendly ‘Too Much Too Young’, you’re left thanking whoever chose them for this slot, before realising one thing – they didn’t play ‘Ghost Town’. It may not have exactly fitted with the celebratory nature of the event but for one of the country’s landmark singles to be missing is still a bit strange.
“Strange” doesn’t even begin to cover it where Blur (10/10) are concerned. We feared we’d seen the last of them after their superb 2009 reunion gigs, and after three years of will-they-won’t they in the press, plus that, shall we say, slightly uneven Brits performance, here we are back in Hyde Park again.
The big screen parts to reveal the band underneath their very own Westway, as a bouncy 'Girls And Boys’ gets things underway, the first of an opening ‘Parklife’ quartet, with our other old friends ‘London Loves’, ‘Tracy Jacks’ and ‘Jubilee’ paving the way for a storming ‘Beetlebum’ before Graham Coxon’s star turn in ‘Coffee And TV’, Damon Albarn leaning in to give the guitarist a peck on the cheek as it builds to a feedback-drenched close.
Albarn is in fine voice (take note, Brits viewers) and talkative form this evening, welcoming ood player Khyam Allami onto the stage to guest on a majestic ‘Out Of Time’, dedicated to the Syrian people, and the "athletes that were not able to compete because of the current political situation in their country."
There’s a lovely sense of things coming full circle, with B-side ‘Young & Lovely’ dedicated to “all our beautiful children”, while ‘Trimm Trabb’ has Damon, not for the last time tonight, at the crowd barriers, threatening to topple in at any moment.
Of course, Phil Daniels is welcomed on for ‘Parklife’, and all hell breaks loose, with Harry Enfield, dressed as a tea lady, also heading to the stage to deliver the Blur boys a deserved cuppa each.
While the big hits are most definitely present and correct, with ‘Song 2’ keeping things jumping, the die-hards can also revel in a slightly more esoteric setlist than the last time the band were here, with an enjoyable romp through ‘Colin Zeal’ and a tense, 70’s prog-indebted ‘Caramel’ taking us through to the end of set singalongs of ‘No Distance Left To Run’, ‘Tender’ and a soaring ‘This Is A Low’.
The encore begins with a welcome airing of ‘Sing’, and next, an absolutely show-stopping ‘Under The Westway’, with Albarn revealing “This was written just for you, for this day. We were imagining what London would be like on the day the Olympics was ending.” It’s massively affecting, and even attempting to balance it out by seguing into ‘Intermission’, now made even more manic with a gonzo horn section and extra stop-start bits, can’t seem to stop the tears in Damon’s eyes.
So to the remaining epics: ‘End Of A Century’, ‘For Tomorrow’ and, to finish, a titanic ‘The Universal’. It’s a good thing we’re outside, as otherwise there’d be a roof heading into orbit right now. The band lap up the cheers, before Damon chokingly says “Goodbye.”
That’s a rather alarming choice of words – is this really it for Blur? Surely not when the songs still sound so fresh, and they don’t look ridiculous jumping about (or even doing the Mobot) to them either – it doesn’t have to be about nostalgia with them.
The chemistry between Damon, Graham, Alex (foot on the monitors, louche as ever tonight) and Dave is obviously still there, and there’s no doubt that a new album could be fantastic, if ‘Under The Westway' and ‘The Puritan’ (not played tonight, although the intro appeared to start up at one point) are anything to go by.
With Damon trooping off looking disconsolate, it doesn’t bode well. We can only hope that tonight might have helped the band see that a "midlife" Blur still makes sense, but if this was really their last gig, they depart as they did in 2009: on a high, with legacy not just intact, but enhanced.
BT London Live moves to Trafalgar Square for the Paralympic Games from 29 August - 9 September.