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Matthew Foster , August 13th, 2012 07:32

At the same time as The Who and the Spice Girls were bringing down the curtain on the Olympics in Stratford last night, Blur headlined the end-of-play event in Hyde Park. Matthew Foster went along to witness a band of two halves knitting the crowd together

Swaggering out onto a stage that includes a pulsating, life-size reconstruction of London’s Westway, you could be forgiven for thinking that Blur are back in big-head mode for this Olympic closing ceremony tie-in. A frantic ‘Girls & Boys’, fag angled in the mouth of bassist Alex James (this image of whom we must all try to forget), sends an almighty roar through Hyde Park and as the band tears through a quad of Parklife tracks, it looks like the hits might have won out over any chance of an earnest career retrospective. Such is the balancing act of a fairly weird band being as massive as this.

There is indeed a sizable dollop of ‘oompah’, chart-topping britpop Blur to kick things off - ‘Jubilee’ is as delightfully obnoxious as it ever was and ‘Tracy Jacks’ becomes an unexpected powerhouse, while oft-neglected ‘London Loves’ gets a welcome outing - but the other, ‘serious’ Blur also makes an appearance, signalled by a ‘Beetlebum’ that has an accompanying Hyde Park clap for every ‘chk’ of the Graham Coxon intro. Somewhere after a workmanlike ‘Coffee & TV’, however, quite a few tune out. Although if it were up to pale bedsit-dwellers like me, the entire set would consist of album cuts like the staggering ‘Caramel’ and crunchy ‘Trimm Trabb’ from 13, or the golden-age Modern Life Is Rubbish B-side ‘Young & Lovely’, this mainly hit-free midsection at times comes dangerously close to alienating a chunk of the crowd. It's a whole lot of fan-service bundled up together, but comes across as more than a little indulgent.

It’s not really until ‘Sunday Sunday’ that they get the park back on side, with the up-tempo reakout at the end nicely lighting the fuse. And then they’re off again, crowd sent crazy by the double-punch of the brattish ‘Country House’ (now gleefully defaced by some Graham Coxon noise) and, of course, ‘Parklife’. As well as Phil Daniels, Blur are flanked by Harry Enfield for the track, the latter dressed as a maid and, of course, serving tea. This nudges Albarn back from sullen Bowie to cheeky-chappy mode, making jibes about Enfield being “an almost forgotten British institution”. Oi! There follows a welcome detour into Modern Life Is Rubbish land, ‘Advert’ and ‘Colin Zeal’ doing a better job of keeping the pace while pleasing the hardcore, and a nice reminder that ‘Popscene’ is brilliant.

Although tonight’s gig is an official Olympic event, it’s surprisingly free of commercial bombardment, and any mention of the Games by the band seems genuinely heartfelt. Albarn refers to an “extraordinary two weeks” and looks like he really means it, waves someone’s Union flag to cheering from Hyde Park, and commands 60,000 people to do the Mo-bot, most of whom oblige so hard they don’t notice a madcap ‘Song 2’ has kicked off. The one indisputably Good Thing to come out of these Games has to have been the shared enjoyment of little moments like this; that sense of getting happily lost in a collective experience. I’d wager it’s the reason the singalong songs with common reference points go down so well tonight, while the weirder stuff, even if the crowd knows it well, kind of meanders; ‘Tender’ and ‘This Is a Low’ positively soar, while ‘No Distance Left To Run’ is just, well, there.

Although tonight’s show still gives the distinct impression of a Blur of two halves - poppy piss-takers and arty pioneers - both remaining pretty hard to reconcile, there’s a wonderful moment in the encore that meets the crowd halfway. As the closing ceremony plays out on the other side of London, new song ‘Under The Westway’s call of ‘paradise not lost / it’s in you,’ offers 80,000 people a sarcasm-free hymn to a city that’s just gone and surprised itself, if not the world. If Blur really is over after this, this moment of clarity, of not trying too hard, of speaking to people and not down to them, is a pretty brilliant memory to leave us all with.

'Girls & Boys'
'London Loves'
'Tracy Jacks'
'Coffee & TV'
'Out of Time'
'Young & Lovely'
'Trimm Trabb'
'Sunday, Sunday'
'Country House'
'Colin Zeal'
'No Distance Left To Run'
'This Is A Low'

'Under The Westway'
'Commercial Break'
'End Of A Century'
'For Tomorrow'
'The Universal'

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