It’s 11:45 p.m. and the 40,000 people who have come to Lucca for Blur are pouring out of the concert area in an orderly fashion. And they sing. They sing “Oh my baby, oh my baby, oh why? Oh my?“. ‘Cause in the end it’s her Tender, the song to go on and on that we just couldn’t get enough of anyway. Yes, there was the classic ending, which was eagerly awaited The universalThen all these tens of thousands of bodies jumped up park life And girls boysthere was delirium song 2 (and here’s a little indentation in a moment), but that’s the way it is Tender the true anthem of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree, whose friendship we tasted crucially for its charm and almost touched. “Tender” is the melody that orchestrates everyone in soulful synchronicity and that lasts until the end of the song and continues after that, not even stopping once the party is over.
The Blur party, which saw people performing in the Lucca audience for the first time and others that they had already seen at Wembley Stadium and Primavera Sound after a few months, brought many adjectives to my mind, but among them there is not one “nostalgic”. Fresh off their ninth album, The Ballad of Darren (and from this record, already loved and sung, along with The Narcissist And St Charles Squareit will be right there theme song playing here for the first time, following an excited announcement from Albarn) Blur were physical, joyful, unbridled, poignant, but most of all they seemed genuinely happy.
The nostalgia effect of the nineties was not there because they are contemporary, even if they come from the repertoire park life which goes back to 1994. Today they feel completely at ease and do not look with the past, which, it seemed on Saturday evening in Lucca, does not make them sigh with melancholy, but on the contrary gass them by the thousands. What made this evening so special is the clear impression that Albarn genuinely loves Blur, both as a person and as an experience.
A few pics of each: Damon’s kiss on Graham, torn in the neck, swing, stomach, right during it Tenderwhich got him a crooked and shy smile, the slap on the butt from Alex James (who knows how to stick a cigarette to his lip for hours as I’ve seen some do) and the full laughter while they improvised when they got to the fourth track, Tracy Jack, everything is gone, vocals, guitar, everything. And instead of getting so pissed off like the band that would have most captivated Sanremo, they did what a group of friends does: they had fun. Albarn dropped the guitar and sat down at the piano, still captivating us even though we didn’t understand what the hell he was playing, even though we started bitching about “that can’t be done”, that “only in Italy”.
It’s not the gigs where things go smoothly that provide the true proof of a band’s mastery, it’s the gigs where there are problems, where if you’re unprepared you have to make things right again. Albarn may be a famously restless musician, oscillating between Gorillaz, Africa Express and the like, but the truth that once again found us disturbing is that in his Fila polo shirt he’s always visibly moved to share a stage with Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree.
The set’s loosely chronological opening section charts the rapid pace of Blur’s evolution from indie dance to punk irritability and Kinks character studies to lo-fi gusts, telling a tale of ambition and ambivalence, of agony and passion, addictions and commitment struggling to hold it all together. Songs like “Popscene” and “Beetlebum,” which sounded like poke fun at success back then, are just humongous tonight. As with the Coxon, Coffee & TV moment, an introvert’s wails morph into a jubilant sway interlude, accompanied by one of his signature anti-solis. There is no scenography, there is only the milk carton that accompanied this iconic video clip, but there is plenty of Albarn embracing the front rows of his audience, clinging to them, always a step away, a millimeter away from indulging in a stage jump that won’t arrive, but again, rightly so. It wasn’t nostalgic, the return of Blur, but it reminded us how much more interesting the reality of Britpop was than the Cool Britannia caricature, showed us what it meant that music so outlandish and characterful was so widely loved, and how well it holds up three decades later.
In Lucca, Albarn is the attractive frontman who, as they say, is born for the stage and makes few affectionate comments (e.g. when he says that today he is a “Basilica which is very peaceful“), who jumps up and smiles, smiles a lot, but then also knows how to portray himself in such a way that each of his bandmates leaves his moment in the limelight. Coxon’s guitar skills are as masterful as ever, his voice hasn’t changed since 1999, James’ confident swagger is gut-wrenching as he plays the sexy bassline of girls boys. And Rowntree, meanwhile, delivers a phenomenal solo trim trot.
In a way they will forgive me the 40,000 euros they paid for it song 2 the strange amidst all the eclectic and gripping repertoire like a movie. Blur, who have always been adepts at keeping their stronghold where the boundaries of their identity lie, return to the MTV era with Song 2’s titan song, but that’s okay too, because it’s a playful take, it’s a pack of wild wolves that run, jump and then get down on their knees, tamed by Alex James Bass. The Universal always has, and always will have, the show, the party, the meetup with friends. It’s a song from the past, but it will always be about the future. A prophetic piece of luscious art-pop magic that will send shivers down your spine. The risk of nostalgia is averted. Rather, it’s an epic celebration of dreams come true and the collision of different lives and, as a friend wrote to me minutes after the end of the live, of people loving each other “because they don’t know, but I love Blur and I came to Lucca to tell them.” All the people. Really.