Walking to the freshly refurbished “The Halls” (It will always be known as The Civic to me and many other locals) it was a welcoming sight that had not been seen in many years, hoards of people hanging around outside and queuing to get in the doors for the official reopening gig.
Despite the size of the que, with it going all down North Street and round the corner, it didn’t take long to get inside, the door staff were a well oiled machine tonight, lets hope that they have started how they mean to go on.
I’d first like to touch on the subject of the new look venue. On the face of it, it feels like the old venue the regulars loved, but with an added balcony and a much bigger stage, and I have to say that the lighting is some of the best I have seen, it could be said that it is arena quality on a smaller scale, I’m truly gutted I could not obtain a photo pass for this night as the lighting seemed like a photographers dream.
I can’t comment on bar prices or state of facilities because as soon as I got into the main room I stuck to my spot, knowing that it was 100% sold out and being short I wanted to make sure I was as close to the action as possible.
Since starting the gig reviews the one thing it has made me realise is that there is a wealth of new music out there (for me at least). I had certainly been living in a perpetual loop of the same music and bands for years but now I find the same excitement listening to a lot of new stuff, such as the first act.
With only finding out the supports fairly late in the lead up to tonight’s gig as usual I had no clue what to expect but whilst getting ready I had a look on their YouTube channel to get an idea and from what I had heard I was actually excited to see their sets.
Sounds Mint, a 5 piece band from London started off with a bit of a hiccup, the background music hadn’t stopped as they started but that didn’t put them off their stride in the slightest.
Their sound as a band was a great fit for the evening, a bit punky, melodic, bouncy and you could tell it was heartfelt music. The singer had, at times, a vocal style reminiscent6 of Johnny Rotten, really putting his everything into his performance but making it look effortless, and at points though-out it seemed like he was channelling his inner Ian Curtis, I am certain that fans of Joy Division would really enjoy Sounds Mint.
This band has a lot of potential, and Wolverhampton (those that turned up early) thought so too, there wasn’t much movement in the crowd but a healthy applause and approving shouts in between songs. It must be hard opening up for a band such as Blur but they did a great job.
The only downside was the set was short, I could have quite happily listened to them for a lot longer and I hope they return to the Midlands again in the near future. Some of the highlights from the set were “What’s Good”, “Mess” and “Pugland”.
As usual in between bands there was a compilation playing through the speakers, and Foo Fighters came on, instantly taking me back to 1997 when I was in that very room, front and centre with my mates watching the Foo’s on the Color And The Shape Tour….
Making me hope that one day, now that this venue is back with us, a lot of bands will follow in Blurs footsteps and do a show there for old times sakes….One can dream….Anyway that’s off the current subject.
Next up were Wu-lu, another London act, coming from Brixton. Coming onto the stage looking a bit more serious, a bit more aggressive, and with a sound to match. Each song was like a journey through genres, a truly genre bending act.
At times you could hear some early Radiohead influence, but mixed with some UNKLE and Sneaker Pimps, and even at one point some reggae style guitar jams thrown in. It was like being transported back to the 90s and it was impressive that they could sound like a well produced Trip Hop record being mixed with Grunge,
Punk and even at times with breakdowns sounding like a Metal band was going to bring in a huge stomping drop.
Halfway through the set the guitars and bass were set down for a bass heavy Hip Hop break with all 3 fronting members taking to the mics.
If you like your music with a lot of well done style variations, clever usage of time signatures and plenty of aggression then Wu-lu are one to look for.
After a bit of a longer stage change over and a lot of people chanting you could tell that the presence of Blur was imminent when the theme tune for “Tales Of The Unexpected” unexpectedly started playing, and, to one of the loudest ovations I have heard, out come Damon, Graham, Dave and Alex.
As the crowd reached out, cheering and applauding the foursome, Damon stepped up to the mic, raised his arms and said “I now declare The Wolverhampton Civic Officially Open” before the band kick into the first song of the 2 hours set “St. Charles Square”, which is a track from their soon to be released new album, and what a track it is, quintessential Blur.
This was to be a set that would appeal to both the die hard and casual fans alike with many of the Blur staples being played along with some surprise songs that had the die hard fans going mental.
Once the first song had finished there was the extremely familiar riff of “There’s No Other Way” and with it a huge surge of people from behind, the place going absolutely nuts, if you were in that area, like I was, you had no choice, you were moshing and jumping if you liked it or not, and everyone in attendance with in fine voice. You could see the smiles of Alex and Damon at the reception they had.
“Popscene” was next, keeping the fans jumping, with Damon throwing water into the mass of people as far as he could. This was followed by “Coping”, apparently being played for only the 3rd time since 2003, and this was one the older fans were happy about, it sounded better than it did back on “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, it’s clear that Blur were on top form and truly enjoying themselves.
“Jubilee” was next (live for the first time since 2013 I believe”, keeping the energy high and the voices of the many working before dropping the energy with “Chemical World”, “Young and Lovely” and one that always got the crowd going “Beetlebum”.
Without wanting to be one to ruin the surprise of a whole set I shan’t name all the songs, but anyone who has seen them live know what songs to expect. There was plenty of banter, a lot of joking about football teams and a little story of when they first started out and played a gig up north – “We’re from London” earning the response “Well fuck off back there then”.
At some point in the show Damon broke his glasses, but an eager fan was soon quick to chuck their sunglasses on the stage, to which Damon put them on and said that they were a bit “Kurty” (To be fair, they were similar to the style rocked by Kurt Cobain) at which point Graham started playing the opening riff to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
The second half of the set was where all fans, both die hard and casual, could really get their voices heard loud and proud, with all the classic crowd pleasers such as “End Of A Century” (with Damon climbing onto the barrier getting into the thick of it as the whole room sang back to him), “Parklife” (where he got the lyrics to the second verse mixed up but we all helped him through by shouting Parklife at the relevant times), “Song 2” and a few more before “This Is A Low” (this is one that really gets the Goosebumps rising) with others inbetween.
And that was that, well, we all knew it wasn’t, an encore was due and after a 5 minute break the stage was once again inhabited by the Southern legends.
“Girls and Boys”, new track “The Narcissist” (Where I believe we were introduced to Damon Midlands based friends, on of which is said to be the inspiration behind the new album name” , crowd favourite “Tender”, “For Tomorrow”, “Intermission” (this was off the cuff, I don’t think it was planned but I’m glad they chucked it in there) and “The Universal” was the Encore, with the latter ringing out as the crowd thanked them with all they had left.
For those who were in attendance tonight, it was something special, as big as Blur are, with the ability to sell out stadiums, it’s unmistakably apparent that the really relish playing these smaller, more intimate gigs, really appreciating the fans enough to pay it back to them by doing so, and long may it continue. Blur are ALWAYS welcome back to Wolverhampton and I hope we get at least one more show from them here before it really is the end for Blur.
The last UK show of the warm up tour is Sunday 28th May at the O2 City Hall in Newcastle before they head out to Europe ahead of their 2 dates at Wembley Stadium on July 8th (Sold Out) & July 09th.