Blur in Amsterdam: “Reunited and it feels so good”

Reunion tours are the marmite of live music: you either love them or you hate them. And this saying goes for artists as well as fans; getting back together to perform the songs which fuelled your emotions thirty years ago isn’t for everyone, and some pull it off better than others. Blur are the kind of band who never felt the need to be pigeonholed into one corner of the burgeoning guitar scene in 90s Britain, often finding themselves at loggerheads despite Damon Albarn’s sublime lyricism. It’s taken a good 35 years since the band’s inception for them to finally hit arena-sized venues across mainland Europe, with July marking the release of their first album in more than half a decade: the sonically picturesque The Ballad of Darren. Tonight they appeared in the Netherlands for the first time in nearly twenty years, taking to the stage at a 75% full Ziggo Dome in what was a show of mixed emotions. Equal parts iconic and monotonous, to put it briefly.

Opener Pip Blom recently said goodbye to drummer Gini Cameron, who’s expecting a child. Instead of replacing the formidable drummer, Pip and co. decided to opt for a more tech-y approach which falls right in line with the upcoming third album’s synthy undertones. Over the course of 25 minutes, Pip and band performed a barrage of new songs which all took their cues from 1980s new wave and post punk; pulsating basslines, crunching percussion and all. It took a while for them to win over the talkative (read: regular) Dutch crowd, but come the penultimate song Pip Blom succeeded in capturing the Ziggo Dome’s attention.

Blur took to the stage shortly after 9pm, treating some 10,000 Dutch fans to a career-spanning. 24-song set which touched on the past just as much as it teased the future. New album The Ballad of Darren – the group’s ninth – is due on 21 July, with two songs making the cut tonight. Among them was show opener St. Charles’ Square, a gritty alt rock opener with all of Blur’s classic sonic quirks. “I fucked up” declared Albarn during the song’s first verse, later going on to tell the crowd that he was relatively stoned after a day in Amsterdam’s city centre. Whether he was fibbing or not remained to be seen, yet either way it didn’t seem to affect the high quality of the performance. New album lead single The Narcissist marked a sonically pretty breather later on. The opening section of the show took a while to get going, with the crowd not quite managing to engage until Beetlebum. Once this slow-burning anthem’s vibrations faded out, it started to become smooth sailing for the band. 

This aforementioned smooth sailing wasn’t easy to achieve, it should be noted. The show definitely took far too long to really get going in terms of musical energy, with a few too many songs veering into mellow/slow burning territory. It wasn’t until the show neared its end that the raucous Parklife woke the Ziggo Dome up, albeit sans the iconic Phil Daniels. Parklife managed to resurrect a lot of the energy the crowd lost during a slew of lowkey songs, with encore opener Girls & Boys marking the nightlight of the night fifteen minutes later thanks to its pulsating rhythms, catchy chorus and effortless sense of love-infused disco. It’s a shame Blur never ventured too far into the world of disco and funk, because Girls & Boys is a fantastic example of how it can be done. Song 2 also featured – of course – making for a sweaty pit moment in the crowd despite Albarn’s inability to hit the high notes (a megaphone now takes care of that). A sprawling rendition of The Universal marked the end of the night, one which was successful in more ways than one despite disappointing ticket sales. The Netherlands might not be a winning audience for Blur, but for the band the Netherlands was yet another victory and intriguing chapter in their never ending story. They’re reunited, and it feels so good. Images: Marc Prodanovic Text: Jack Parker