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Guest review: Blur live at Wembley Stadium

Hey Britannics, as a companion piece to Mark Gibson’s brand new nineties listicle Perfect 10: Britpop Stars on 45, we’re delighted to announce the latest contributor scribe to the website. An ace snapper from America, he’s recounted his thrilling transatlantic journey to catch a recent two-night stand at London’s Wembley Stadium by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree. 

In other words, a huge pair of reunion gigs by Blur, who sold out 90,000 tickets for the Saturday show in minutes, Sunday’s extra date wasn’t full, being noticeably roomy in the upper echelons. After referencing noted British movies including The Great Escape, Quadrophenia and The Italian Job across their 30-plus year career, was this second night A Bridge Too Far? Daniel Higgins says not on your life.

One day years ago, I was exposed to a unique commemorative concert DVD: Blur live in Hyde Park, staged just after the London 2012 Olympics had concluded. The disc captivates me to this day; my feelings ran the gamut of excitement, audience approval, and sheer envy. How I wanted to be in that crowd (actually, I was! — Ed.), waving flags and singing along at full force.

Alas, that time had come and gone, not to be repeated.

It’s now 2023, and I had the most thrilling opportunity of my adult life that after four previous attempts to get to Europe (Covid ‘n all), that it all fell into place to see Blur live at Wembley Stadium both nights, 8 and 9 July. Thankfully, I was completely blown away by both shows!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV8we2ubrxI

Four nights at the Karma Sanctum hotel, Soho, helped prepare me for the big days. Coming from the US, I wanted to make sure I had no jet lag and had settled in to modern (British) life. I had great times hitting restaurants in the Shard, One New Change, and a barge restaurant on the canals of East London. Hit the ABBA Voyage. Then it was off to Horley in Sussex, where I stayed with like-minded Albarnites in their fantastic “country house”.

Driving to both shows was no simple feat; two and a half hours each way on endless M’s and A’s …… and staying pretty much within London, ricocheting from Gatwick to Heathrow, to avoid congestion in the city, and the unavoidable congestion charge! The pink garage was an hour just to get out of it post show, but so worth it. 

Blur put on a fantastic and high energy performance that blew me away. Our seats were closest to the stage, row 10. Complete and total immersion. The sound was loud and clear. Sold out show. 90,000 people. Awesome.

As a concert photographer by trade, it takes a lot for me to gush over a show, much less drop big bucks to travel abroad and sit and behave. Having photographed for Hard Rock Calling for years, as well as seeing Gorillaz at the o2 Arena and The Good, The Bad & The Queen at the London Palladium, yeah, there is nothing like an Albarn concert in London. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzkpXd3zAgI

But Saturday’s show was total immersion. Damon had an almost gratitude and thankful sentiment for finally making the stage at Wembley. Fresh from his guest stint with Duran Duran, Graham’s guitar was unreal. Just unreal. It was like going back almost 30 years. Their timing was impeccable. Powerful and immersive. 

At one point, Damon stops the show to admit to the crowd how obviously weird it is for grown men to be prancing all over the stage. Then yells “It’s your fault! You made us this way!” then segues into Song 2, getting all the peoploids to scream “Whoo hoo!” in a way that the echo was marvellous. Damon himself, being quite the showman that his 30+ years in the business obviously was empowered by the reception of the capacity crowd, while concurrently being gracious and humbled. 

All the biggies were played, so there was something for everyone. My personal highlights: Oily Water, Popscene, There’s No Other Way, The Universal, plus the barbed new wave newie St. Charles Square. And of course Parklife, for which the venerable Phil Daniels made his obligatory return for his cockney rendition of the song, bringing the crowd to an almost fever pitch of delight. They all go hand in hand! 

The unity of purpose was strong and absolute; Damon had them eating out of his hand. Graham acted like a teenager, tossing his guitar in the air, balancing drinks on his head, but the reason for my trip was absolute and realised complete, unrelenting immersion in an event of incredible power and dream fulfilment. I actually had to walk the concourse a bit during the encores, as my body was spent.

Sunday’s show was mellower but not by much. You could tell that the band is not used to these back to back energy drainers, and it showed. This show allowed me to concentrate on the songs that moved me the most, while leaving my brain open to absorb a few songs that may have passed me the night before. 

Songs like Trimm Trabb, The Narcissist, Girls & Boys, This Is A Low, Sunday Sunday — which wasn’t done on the Saturday but always played when the band performs on a Sunday. Funny that — along with the crowd-pleasing anthems Beetlebum and Tender, this time with the London Community Gospel Choir, which was really quite inspiring. 

Paul Weller and the Selecter were openers that day. I’ve liked the Selecter since the 1980s, and it was equally refreshing to see Modfather Weller (from The Jam and the Style Council, naturellement) still in good his voice and bringing back memories. Was I surprised by the shows? Yep. Would I do them again? In a heartbeat. 

On another note, although I enjoyed hearing the singles from The Ballad Of Darren, but I’m not sure how much I like the new album as a whole yet. Please don’t turn into a chick band, Blur! There’s too many dour dirges and self-pitying crapolas. You want a slow song from this brilliant band? Try Mirrorball from The Magic Whip. It touches the soul.

And for two days in July 2023 my soul was definitely touched.

Daniel Higgins

www.danhigginsphotographer.com/

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