NEW YORK -- One week after their album hit stores, Brit-poppers
Blur brought their experimental new CD, 13, to life at the
Roseland Ballroom Tuesday in the first show of a brief North American
The band's set at the spacious, sold-out concert hall consisted entirely
of tracks from the new record, played in order, excluding only "Caramel"
and "Optigan 1."
"I thought it was cool how they played [the new album] in order -- I
think the album tells a story about Damon's ... breakup with Justine,"
said Jake Kammer, 19, referring to Blur lead singer Damon Albarn's
long-term relationship with Justine Frischmann, from the band Elastica.
Kammer, a student at Temple University, said his only complaint was that
the band had left out "Caramel."
As on their album, Blur began with a soaring, no-holds-barred version of
(RealAudio excerpt), with the Harlem Boys Choir sitting in for the
London Gospel Community Choir, who sing on the album version. Albarn,
who wore baggy jeans and a dark, short-sleeved polo shirt with a pale
stripe along the collar, seemed energized by the choir's animated
presence, which lent unexpected grandeur to such lines as "I'm
screwing up my life."
Though the band did pull out a few older favorites in its encore, some
fans were less than thrilled with Blur's intense commitment to 13,
which hit store shelves March 23. "They should have interspersed the
new songs with old songs," Chris Winder, 23, from Manhattan, said, after
nodding at a friend's assessment of the new material as "drony and boring."
The band, who had warmed up with the choir in a performance of "Tender"
Monday night on CBS-TV's "Late Show with David Letterman," was aided
throughout the performance by a dark-hued, highly theatrical light show,
which complemented the gloom that pervades 13.
From there, the band moved into the dark-sounding "Bugman," and the more
aggressive tracks "Coffee and TV" and "Swamp Song" -- the latter song
began with a searing burst of guitar feedback and featured Albarn
singing like proto-punk Iggy Pop. Guitarist Graham Coxon played a
memorably jagged, noisy solo on "Coffee and TV."
The spooky, Pink Floyd-meets-the-Doors track "1992" found Albarn coaxing
an eerie solo from a small, breath-controlled keyboard, while the
frontman struck deliberately stagey poses during the manic rock manifesto
"B.L.U.R.E.M.I.," which repeats the curious line, "Group using a loop
of another pop group."
The intricate, dramatic song "Battle" brought to the fore a touring
keyboardist, who had been hidden at the rear of the stage. A synthesizer
line pulsed throughout the song, while Blur expertly moved between quiet
passages featuring lilting harmonies and heavier sections featuring
drummer Dave Rowntree pummelling his kit along with an abrasive guitar
attack from Coxon.
Without much success, Albarn asked the large, somewhat rowdy crowd to
quiet down as he sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar to play the
aptly titled "Mellow Song," which while starting out as such, actually
kicked in halfway through.
Rollicking piano lines led "Trailer Park" (RealAudio excerpt),
which Blur originally wrote for the soundtrack to the hit TV cartoon
show "South Park." Despite its origins, the band played the carnivalesque
song with intensity; Albarn somehow found pathos in the lyric, "I lost
my girl to the Rolling Stones."
Guitarist Graham Coxon switched between an acoustic guitar and his
sticker-laden Telecaster during the Nirvana-like "Trimm Trabb," while
Albarn provided one of the evening's emotional highlights with the song's
climactic scream. At the song's peak, he clenched his fists and visibly
drew a deep breath before launching into a cry as pained
as anything Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain ever sang.
Blur finished their presentation of 13 with the loping ballad
"No Distance Left to Run," which features such tortured lines as "hope
you're with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleeping tonight/ I
won't kill myself, trying to stay in your life."
Blur then stunned much of the crowd by leaving the stage, only 40 minutes
after they had arrived.
"We're going to play a few old songs for you," Albarn said a few minutes
later, when he and his bandmates returned.
For the first time during the night, Albarn bounced unabashedly about
the stage and the crowd followed suit as Blur pulled out the hits
"Beetlebum" (1997), "There's No Other Way" (1991) and "Pop Scene" (1993).
"We've got one last song now," Albarn told the crowd as Dave Rowntree
crashed into the beat of "Song
2" (RealAudio excerpt), Blur's biggest American hit.
As Coxon began the song's catchy guitar riff, the crowd gleefully began
yelling out the refrain of "Woo-hoo," and Albarn took the cue, holding
his microphone out and letting the audience sing the entire first verse.
The recorded version of "Song 2" is brief, but Blur's live rendition
seemed even shorter, barely reaching the two-minute mark.
Shaun Ellis, a 23-year-old longtime Blur fan from Philadelphia, said the
show was typical of the ever-changing band. "That's exactly what I
expected -- to not get what I expected," Ellis explained.
Blur, who have no current plans for a full tour supporting 13,
are scheduled to play two more North American shows -- in Los Angeles,
at the Mayan Theatre Thursday and in Toronto, Ontario, at the Palais Royale Tuesday.