A curious grin played out on the lips of bassist Alex James throughout the frenetic two-hour 26 track set that comprised Blur’s warm-up show in Newcastle ahead of their comeback European tour.
As cool as a cucumber, he was the first band member on stage before the art pop rock ‘90s chart toppers thrilled a 2,600 capacity audience at Newcastle O2 City Hall on Sunday night.
His first act was to spark up a cigarette which hung lazily from corner of his mouth, the crowd going wild as bandmates Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon and drummer Dave Rowntree joined him.
Dressed in a sports jacket and short-sleeved polo-style shirt, bespectacled Damon pumped the air, fists clenched, in triumph before introducing new gritty, raw, heavier song, St Charles Square, to fans then afterwards proclaiming: “Oh yes, we have returned.’
Then it was into more familiar territory, the funky opening chords of 1991’s There’s No Other Way turning the static audience into a sea of movement as the room sang the lyrics back to the stage.
Next up was the gloriously chaotic thrashing sound of Popscene before Tracy Jacks, another fan favourite, offered a reminder, if ever it were needed, what a phenomenal guitarist Graham Coxon is.
Damon, as charismatic as ever, now cuts a different figure on stage from the reckless, stage-diving bouncy 20-something he was at the start of his career, when he was a tabloid darling whose lager-fuelled antics put him at the forefront of ‘lad culture’.
Now 55, there’s less jumping about, but the frontman gives it his all, still as passionate about his music as ever, with real attitude, owning every inch of the stage as he strives to ensure every section of the crowd is involved.
Strapping on his acoustic guitar, the opening bars of Beetlebum pulsate through the room before he takes the crowd on another joyful singalong, and I, personally, am transported back to my student days in Sheffield in 1997.
Graham Coxon took the lead on Coffee and TV, before Out of Time and then the simply sublime End of a Century took us to a very fast version of Parklife, which left Damon knackered as he was doing the Phil Daniels ‘feed the sparrows’ part as well as the catchy chorus.
It slowed down a bit, mercifully, with the dreamlike To The End, before Sunday Sunday and Advert.
Then, performed live for the first time since 1997, especially for this three-day weekend, was the fast-paced and funny drinking song Bank Holiday.
Almost regretfully, given the energy required, Damon introduced Song 2, the crowd, now drenched in sweat and pots of water thrown by the singer, responded with requisite Woo Hoos, pogoing, arms in the air, fingers pointing.
The heat in the refurbished City Hall was intense by this point and it is worth mentioning how fantastic the security guards were, handing out drinks in plastic glasses and gratefully received ice pops to cool people down.
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After a longer than normal pause for an encore the band returned, Damon now wearing red, white and blue tracksuit top.
We know what’s coming.
It is 1994 again, and I feel like a sixth-former in a Gateshead pub with a video jukebox as the opening pop dance Euro beats of Girls & Boys kicks in and everyone is bouncing once again.
The Narcissist was followed by the beautifully melodic, Tender, before peak-Mockney London track For Tomorrow made way for the glorious optimism of The Universal to round off a truly blistering set.
There were few false starts on songs, Damon smirked when he fluffed a few lines and there were times he struggled, particularly with higher note but his voice held out and sounded strong, and this was, remember, one of their first live gigs since 2015.
The show was a real treat and is a poignant reminder of why Blur are one of the best bands the country has ever produced.