London’s summer of 2011 was defined by one despairing plea: when will it end? Streets from Tottenham to Lewisham were set alight; shops were raided and then raised to the ground as the police were stretched thin and pushed back by wild-eyed rioters.
Fast forward one year to a chilly sold out night at Hyde Park, and the sentiment on every last individual’s lips couldn’t be any more different: is it really over…why does it have to end?
The Games have been transformative. London, the world’s most unabashedly multicultural city, has been brought even closer together by the arrival of millions of beautiful, smiling strangers. Its the closest thing this generation has experienced to the blitz spirit, thousands of volunteers, legions of jolly soldiers, and eight million enthusiastic Londoners have turned the Olympic Games into 14 halcyon days of escapist whimsy.
Damon Albarn, overcome by sheer disbelief, attempted to put the experience of the last fortnight into words as Blur set about closing the 2012 Olympic Games. He never quite managed it, but the conflicted and yet oddly proud look on his face said all that needed to be said. Over in the Olympic Stadium the transient fads of yesteryear were being wheeled out one by one, as young starlets Emile Sande and Tinnie Tempah were forced to play second fiddle to the Spice Girls’ stage managed nostalgia and Take That’s insipid banality.
Still if the Closing Ceremony, and Muse’s “Survival”, presented a distinctly un-London sense of pomposity, then Blur represented the real beating heart of the city. Ghostly ballads full of broken hearts and anonymity reflect those awkward silences on the underground, as seething anthems crystalize crowded streets, drunken lads, moaning middle-aged men, and the intimidatingly inescapable rat race.
Simply put: Blur are London - for better or worse. Frightening enlivening modernity (“Girls & Boys”) rubs shoulders with the quaint imagery of ol’ Britannia (“Sunday Sunday”), and it’s all sent up with the typically distant and dismissive ironic wit of a Londoner (“Popscene”).
Through all the incendiary anthems and the predictably brilliant 50,000 strong sing-alongs, it’s the reclusive wilting ballads that prove the most endearing. “Trimm Trabb” remains disturbingly beautiful - a marriage of disdain and inescapable isolation that’s pitifully serene. Only the despairing shimmers of “No Distance Left To Run” threaten to surpass “…Trabb’s” insular reflection and force a rowdy audience of thousands to recall tears shed and lovers lost.
Between “Tender”, which continues to take on a life of its own live, and the oddly euphoric set-closing staple “The Universal”, “This Is A Low” manages to briefly steal the show. Albarn’s strained wails seemingly channel the resilience of millions of Londoners who hopelessly refuse to accept the passing of the torch.
Then there’s the Olympic anthem. Blur had already captured something of the Olympic spirit when they were joined on stage by Syrian oudist Khyam Allami for the plaintive “Out Of Time”, but they left “Under The Westway” in reserve. Muse misjudged the public mood with the ironic pomp and Freddie style bombast of “Survival”, whereas Blur’s dignified farewell remains pitch perfect. Ethereal resignation mixed with pride made time stand still as Damon cried “hallelujah” anticipating, and somehow defying, the impending return of the 9-to-5.
Visibly moved as they soaked in a seemingly endless roar at the set’s end, and with Damon barely resisting tears, the band whose career long motto read “it’s nothing special” had just closed something very special indeed. A fitting final chapter for London 2012 and a perfect potential endnote for Blur themselves.
A Nagging Complaint: Not everyone in attendance could enjoy Blur’s brilliant last stand, as Hyde Park’s legendarily stingy volume control left a third of the crowd chanting “turn it up, turn it up”. Springsteen and McCartney were dragged off stage in July for daring to overrun, and artists as diverse as Madonna and Arcade Fire have been blighted by low levels – perhaps it’s time for Blur, London 2012, and Hyde Park, the music venue, to bow out together?
Hampered by ill health, but never ones to retire shyly, The Who continue celebrating their 50th anniversary as they contemplate retirement.
Guitar Planet grades the creative comebacks from three iconic artists who are attempting to give 2015 a much-needed injection of impetus.
Guitar Planet takes on new albums by southern stars Blackberry Smoke, nu-metal icons Papa Roach and the legendary Venom.
The music industry’s glamorous state of the union address was delivered this weekend, but what did the Grammys have to say about guitar music?
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.