The first concert I ever saw was Oasis in 2005.
As I took in a momentous, nearly two-hour performance from Damon Albarn and his mates, I couldn’t help myself as all the Blur vs. Oasis narratives ran wild in my head. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast and difference between these two bands and their demeanors.
Blur took the stage following a lullaby-eque tune – the polar opposite of the Gallagher Bros. walking out to their banger of a tune “Fuckin’ in the Bushes.” Whereas Liam Gallagher would stand in front of a microphone with a scowl, Albarn was out there high-fiving fans – even signing one person’s vinyl as it was handed to him from the front of the pit. Albarn smiled more times in five minutes than I’ve seen Liam or Noel smile in two decades.
Prior to the show, I heard two guys much older than me talking about the show as we waited in line to get our tickets scanned. “I told about a dozen people I was going to this show tonight and most of them were like, ‘Who’?”
It’s somewhat forgivable for Blur to have slipped from the public consciousness. This year’s album The Magic Whip was the band’s first since 2003’s Think Tank. Despite the hiatus the band took, Albarn has been particularly busy, first with the Gorillaz and more recently with a solo project. The Bowl show wasn’t a sellout but it was still a hotly-anticipated set that saw the venue pretty jam-packed as opener Courtney Barnett finished up her set.
Albarn played to the crowd for much of the night as the show got underway. Along with bandmates Graham Coxon (guitar/vocals), Alex James (bass), and Dave Rowntree (drums), Albarn brought with him a full brass section as well as a quartet of backup singers. It added the depth necessary to make the experience at the Bowl that much more enjoyable.
Blur delivered one of the best surprises of 2015 with Magic Whip and that was further illustrated by each performance of the new material. The evening kicked off with “Go Out” and a few songs later was followed by “Lonesome Street,” with Albarn spraying the pit with water during the latter, jumping up and down in place.
During “Badhead,” Albarn grabbed the hand of a fan and blew them kisses. The slow-tempo “Ghost Ship” featured excellent vocals by Coxon and led nicely into the throwback classic “Coffee & TV,” certainly one of the band’s most infamous tunes. Albarn tried leading the crowd in the harmonies but they kept fucking it up, forcing Albarn to laugh.
Albarn took time to pause and reminisce about time spent in LA while with Blur.
“We used to drive past the Hollywood Bowl and … well, it never happened for us,” Albarn said as the crowd cheered in adoration. Albarn followed it up with a heartfelt thank you for bringing the band to the venue all these years later.
At this point I noticed that Beck was sitting a couple of rows back from me. It was refreshing to see that even someone as talented and awesome as him takes shitty grainy cell phone videos at concerts. Beck later moved up to a closer spot to take in much of the show.
For the song “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” Albarn walked out into the crowd and stood on a table as he serenaded them with the slow tune. Later, actor/comedian/sometimes musician Fred Armisen joined the band for “Parklife,” saying, “It could be about Griffith Park, it could be about Echo Park,” to the cheers of the crowd.
“Song 2” sent the Bowl into hysterics. It’s the first Blur song I remember hearing as a kid, forcing me to recall memories of my kindergarten-aged sister calling it “the wee-hoo song.” It was the highest-energy part of the whole evening.
Those who stayed for the four-song encore got treated to an epic rendition of “Girls & Boys,” with the backup singers really doing a bang-up job in particular. It was a rather spectacular performance and it is crazy to think how Albarn is part of two bands that could legitimately (and have previously) headline Coachella.
Could you imagine a world where both Blur and Oasis headlined separate days at the destination music festival?
Courtney Barnett has quickly become one of my favorite live performers since first seeing her rock out at the El Rey this past November and also later at a couple festival stops along the way. Tuesday marked the fifth time I’ve seen her live and she was a perfect lead-in to the main event.
Wearing a Bruce Springsteen tour t-shirt, Barnett and her band ripped through an eight-song set that highlighted just how good her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is. There’s a reason it will end up on every Best of 2015 list that matters.
Barnett ignited the gathering crowd with “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” while also allowing a quieter moment to prove powerful with “Depreston.” Barnett closed her set with the rocking “Pedestrian at Best,” shredding on the guitar as hundreds if not thousands sang along to her unconventional but catchy conversational lyrics.
I had been to the Bowl on three other occasions but never this close. I had a garden box seat and I was a full football-field closer than I’d ever been and it dramatically altered my experience. While you lose out on some of the scenery that comes behind the Bowl, you gain an appreciation of the architecture that went into building the stage and also how great things sound that close up.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Timmy Farmer