Live Review: Blur, Hyde Park (12/08/12)

When organised, it was perhaps thought that Blur‘s Hyde Park gig would act as an appropriate alternative to the shamelessly dazzling Closing Ceremony – it would be the end of the Olympics for those who might be less interested in the Olympics. This is demonstrated by the contrasting lineups: for the chirpy pop of The Spice Girls & One Direction in the Closing Ceremony; there was the slightly more realistically sombre pop of New order & The Specials in Hyde Park. However this did not account for the way that the Olympics would capture the public’s imagination and thus transform Britain into an irresistible sea of positivity for the sixteen days of the Olympics. Therefore this entirely changed the Hyde Park gig: people no longer wanted sombre pop music; they wanted celebratory pop music: thankfully the pop music on offer in Hyde Park was much more irresistibly subtle than the overwhelming cheesiness of the Closing Ceremony and provided the perfect celebration of a remarkable few weeks.

The day began with a large crowd in front of the Hyde Park stage cheering on Heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua in his final on the large screens on the stage: Anthony Joshua successfully won the Gold medal and the boozy celebrations commenced in Hyde Park & didn’t cease for another eight hours. Bombay Bicycle Club followed this up with a harmlessly enjoyable, even if not necessarily engaging set, which drew heavily from last year’s ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. Unfortunately after Bombay Bicycle Club, there seemed to be a mid-afternoon lull – there was no Olympics coverage left to show between acts and New Order never really delivered. New Order simply seemed like they were missing something, presumably Peter Hook, the band’s most talented musician, who has been forced into musical exile by the band. Therefore New Order just seemed to be lacking that edge and only really delivered when playing 1983 mega hit ‘Blue Monday’.

From here on though, the mood in Hyde Park was of all out celebration. The Specials were a perfect band to be playing just as the sun was fading from the London sky; their joyful two tone hits kept the audience dancing through such tunes as ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Too Much, Too Young’. The only disappointment with The Specials was the notable absence of ‘Ghost Town’, which was constantly expected but never played. However, despite this, the mood was now set perfectly for the evening’s headline act.

Before Blur came on stage, the BBC coverage on the screens kept the crowds at a high with the montages of Olympic Coverage & Madness opening the Closing Ceremony. However, then the screens opened and the next two hours was solely about Blur. The band began with gusto and energy through ‘Girls & Boys’ and the first forty minutes of the set passed in an enjoyable, but not special manner. This could in part unfortunately be down to the same problem that all Hyde Park gigs have suffered this summer; sound levels.

Unfortunately a word does need to be said about the sound levels; it did not hinder my enjoyment of the gig at the front, but it did seem to hinder those at the back, who could apparently barely hear anything. This criticism has now been widely spoken about for Paul Simon and Madonna‘s gigs in Hyde Park this summer, the first summer since the new licensing laws for Hyde Park. It seems now that as beautiful as Hyde Park is, it has become limited as a gig venue. An alternative option for massive gigs in London might be Wembley Stadium where there is no curfew problems or sound issues to be resolved; it is less beautiful but ultimately seemingly more enjoyable. A decision must be taken: change the license for Hyde Park, or hold gigs elsewhere because a reality where Bruce Springsteen is cut off and nobody can hear Paul Simon‘s ‘Sound of Silence’ is not feasible.

However things rapidly improved for Blur. It might have been when Damon Albarn did Mo Farah’s famous “Mobot” dance and was immediately mimicked by all of Hyde Park; or perhaps when Phil Daniels came on stage with a burst of energy for ‘Parklife’. It’s hard to say what it was but something happened forty minutes in that gave Blur‘s show a new burst of energy and took it to the next level. The crowd barely stopped bouncing through songs such as ‘Parklife’, ‘Popscene’, and ‘Song 2’ whilst ‘No Distance Left to Run’ was overwhelmingly powerful. Then came ‘Tender’: the song that has dominated Blur‘s shows over the last few years, most notably their headline set at Glastonbury 2009. The crowd are singing along before the song even starts and Damon Albarn’s baritone complements the Hyde Park voices perfectly, and suddenly every face in Hyde Park is beaming with joy.

Blur seem to have created “the moment” that everyone was hoping for in this gig with ‘Tender’; little did everyone realise that that would come in an unlikely form during the encore. Damon Albarn introduces the second song of the encore ‘Under The Westway’ as a song written by Damon with Graham Coxon in February specifically for this gig with the hope of gauging the mood of the end of the Olympics. Like most Blur songs, it does capture the mood of the nation perfectly; it talks about the euphoria of the capital during such a major event, with the sombre tone of what now for London now that the world has departed? Whilst this song was played, the crowd engaged in the lyrics and Blur seem to have connected with the emotions of the day for almost all of the 60,000 people in Hyde Park.

The band close their set with the wonderful ‘The Universal’ and Damon Albarn is speechless as he blinks back the tears. Thankfully the crowd are not speechless, they scream their approval loud enough to upset Hyde Park’s officious neighbours for a long time after the close of Blur‘s spectacular gig. The 2012 Olympics has provided many memories that will never be forgotten by most, and Blur proved with this gig that they can capture the mood of the nation perfectly whatever the occasion and will therefore also be an integral part of those 2012 memories.

Liam Coleman

…Liam has been listening to: Bruce Springsteen – The River…


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