I bought concert tickets to see Blur play in London’s Hyde Park months before I actually secured airfare to the UK. When the Britpop legends recently announced that they were releasing their first new album in 12 years, The Magic Whip, and would headline a British Summertime show in June to coincide with the release, I knew that I had to be there.
Seeing and hearing these quintessential British anthems in the heart of the very park that inspired frontman Damon Albarn proved too alluring to bother worrying about finances, lodging, and flights. “Let’s make sure to get tickets to the show first, then sort out the rest of the trip,” my wife and I agreed. And on June 20, she and I joined 70,000 fellow music fans for one of the best shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.
Back in the 90s, when the sound of Cool Britannia was infiltrating American airwaves and MTV, I stood firmly on the side of the contentious Gallagher brothers in the media-contrived Blur vs. Oasis battle for Britpop supremacy. I was an obstreperous college kid who clearly identified with both Oasis’s arrogance and their massive—but clearly recycled—riffs, and initially found Blur too arty and innocuous for my adolescent tastes. Over the years, though, Blur’s music has revealed itself to be far more inventive and insightful than that of any of their musical contemporaries, while also serving as a cheeky introduction to modern life in London the way Dickens illuminated the Victorian era.
While I romanticized all things English as a student at the University of Minnesota, Blur’s clever and polished pop songs formed the soundtrack to my restless longing to travel across the pond (which I eventually did for the first time in 1994). From the idyllic mirage of “Country House” to the unhinged buoyancy of “Popscene” to the leisurely public sanctuary of “Parklife,” Blur’s candid, revelatory songs provided a musical guidebook to a city—and way of life—that I cherished from afar.
I had seen Blur play First Avenue twice before (once in 1995, and again in 2003, though that time was without guitarist Graham Coxon), but their music has taken on an added resonance for me as I’ve grown older. Their songs remain vivid snapshots of times and eras that were only fleeting to begin with, while the raw emotions that course through tracks like “This is a Low,” “Tender,” “To the End,” and “The Universal” will always have a special place in my heart.
So, with sky-high expectations I set off to London to see Blur (along with fellow UK openers Metronomy, the Horrors, and Drenge) on their home turf. Their music is so inherently British in nature that it only felt right to hear those songs played outdoors on a cool and appropriately drizzly Saturday night in London—while also singing along with a park filled with 70,000 lager-addled Brits. I never once worried that the lads would let me down, and, from the moment Albarn took to the stage bouncing like he was in a title fight, I knew that the show would indeed be a knockout.
The hits came early, as “There’s No Other Way,” “Badhead,” “Coffee & TV,” and “Beetlebum” all rang out gloriously amidst the resplendent greenery of Hyde Park. The spacey, inspired new songs fit in seamlessly amidst all of the band’s pub anthems. The celebratory nature of the crowd also added to the festivities, as circles of old friends hugged unabashedly while bellowing out the wistful refrain of “Tender.”
Even Phil Daniels (of Quadrophenia fame) was on hand to belt out his feisty narration of “Parklife.” It was, for me, a perfect show. The atmosphere was rowdy when it needed to be (“Song 2” and “Girls & Boys”), while also poignantly intimate as the two-hour set drew to an elegant close with the sun setting over the city (“To the End,” “This is a Low” and the stunning closer “The Universal”).
“It really, really, really could happen,” Damon optimistically pleaded as the night drew to a triumphant close, with the large crowd in full voice singing right along with him. A bit of British musical magic did indeed happen for everyone who filled Hyde Park that lucky day, especially for those of us who traveled so far just to be a part of it.
Erik Thompson is the clubs editor at City Pages, and a freelance music writer in the Twin Cities.
Blur is playing The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, and when you support The Current with a donation of any amount, you’ll be automatically entered to win the ultimate trip for two: we’ll fly you there, cover hotel and hook you up with tickets to the show.