Wolverhampton Civic Hall, Monday 6 August 2012
At this, one of a series of gigs at small venues serving as a warm-up to their appearance at the Olympic closing ceremony in Hyde Park, Blur proved themselves to be the perfect choice for closing London's hosting of the games. There have been many distasteful elements to the London Olympics, all of which have mirrored the most distasteful elements of modern society - rapid privatisation (represented by the incompetence of security provider G4S) and the prevalence of commerce above all other concerns (sponsorship by McDonalds and Coca Cola; seats for sponsors lying empty while dedicated sports fans miss out on tickets) to name just two. But these concerns have been nothing compared to the celebration and admiration of athletes who have worked all their lives towards competing and many have found the games a heartening experience for this reason - particularly as the hard work and commitment of the athletes have often seemed in direct contrast to the sense of entitlement projected by Britain's super-rich.
Indeed, combined with Danny Boyle's wonderful opening ceremony, which celebrated the things our country can be truly proud of, such as the NHS, the suffragette movement and our musical legacy, this has all been a pleasing counterpoint to the jubilee celebrations where Take That's Gary Barlow (shortly after he was revealed to be engaged in tax avoidance) spearheaded a celebration of unearned hereditary privilege. It is for these reasons that Blur seem the perfect fit for the closing ceremony - recently, in particular, Damon Albarn has tended to focus his lyrics on examinations of the state of the nation and where we are at as a country.
This is something that has been apparent in Blur songs throughout their history, from 'This is a Low' to 2010 Record Store Day release 'Fool's Day'. It was again prevalent in new single 'Under the Westway', which made reference to a society in which "the money always comes first" and bemoaned "the distance between us when we communicate", but also possessed an innate positivity which would not be cowed by the negative parts of our society ("Paradise is not lost, it's in you/ On a permanent basis I apologise/ but I am going to sing/ Hallelujah, singing out loud, and sing it to you"). Albarn also recently spoke of how he's "anti the capitalism side of it all. We're not doing the gig for the corporate side of the Olympics, we're doing it for the human beings" - hallelujah indeed.
But before celebration of Blur appearing at the closing ceremony becomes too much of an intellectual treatise, let's not forget that Blur will be a great choice because of the back-catalogue they possess. Opening with 'Girls & Boys', the hits come thick and fast - highlights being a frantic 'Sunday Sunday', the unfairly maligned 'Country House' and a barnstorming sing-a-long to 'Tender'. Some of the best moments, however, come in the quieter moments. 'Trimm Trabb' is one of the highlights of the evening, gradually working its way towards a pulverising close; 'Out of Time' is as beautiful as on record, and 'Caramel' is simply heartbreaking - as powerful now as the first listen, with lyrics consumed with heartbreak and self-loathing ("I've got to get over/ I've got to get better/ Will love you forever") and guitar work from Graham Coxon which expresses just as well the gut-punch of heartbreak in its bursts of distortion as Albarn's lyrics.
Closing with mass sing-a-longs to 'For Tomorrow' and 'The Universal', it soon becomes apparent that 27 songs have been played without a single misfire. If tonight is any indication of how their Hyde Park gig will go, there couldn't be a better choice to close Britain's hosting of the Olympics than one of its greatest bands.