“The thought occurs that it’s an audacious move to casually throw out one of their biggest hits as a set opener, until you remember they have loads of them” says Neill Dougan of Blur‘s Royal Hospital gig last week. Plastic surgery; continuing to wear skinny jeans into your thirties; refusing to retire gracefully from your weekly game of five-a-side, even though you can blatantly no longer handle the pace. Just three of the insane extremes people go to in their refusal to acknowledge the fact that they’re getting on a bit. It’s understandable, of course – ageing is no fun. But ultimately there’s no escaping the fact that, slowly but surely, we’re all becoming old gits.
There are several tell-tale signs of approaching decrepitude. First, your favourite footballers start retiring. Then policemen start looking young. Finally, the bands of your youth – the ones that split up acrimoniously several years ago – reform for a crack at the nostalgia circuit. And so it is that, as we stand in the pleasant environs of Kilmainham Royal Hospital awaiting the arrival of 1990s darling Blur, we’re keeping half a cautious eye out for the men in white coats who might pounce at any moment to cart us off to the retirement home.
Such (very real) worries are dispelled the moment the band introduce themselves with a super-charged rendition of ‘Girls And Boys’ that causes the crowd (many of whom are, amusingly, sporting Fred Perry t-shirts and Oasis haircuts like it’s still 1995) to go ape-shit. The thought occurs that it’s an audacious move to casually throw out one of their biggest hits as a set opener, until you remember they have loads of them: ‘There’s No Other Way’, ‘Beetlebum’ and a sparkling ‘Out Of Time’ are all early-set highlights. The band are in fine fettle and – the odd jowl and thinning hairline aside – look good: Damon mugging merrily, Graham looking perpetually worried, Dave head down in concentration, Alex insouciant with fag in mouth. It’s almost as if they never left.
A mid-set focus on a selection of tracks that might be less well-known to those sections of the audience familiar with only Parklife and The Best of Blur inevitably receives a slightly more muted reception than the big singles, but is actually superb. ‘Trimm Trabb’ is taut and mysterious, its noisy coda a set highlight which prompts the thought that Graham Coxon surely missed his calling as a member of some kind of experimental noise-rock outfit. ‘Caramel’ sounds as heartbreaking as ever, while the unexpected airing of ‘Young & Lovely’ (the b-side of ‘Chemical World’, don’t you know) pleases the Blur anoraks in the crowd (and, speaking of anoraks, despite some truly ominous-looking clouds, the rain somehow holds off for the whole evening).
But inevitably it’s the smash hits that have the crowd in raptures: ‘Tender’, complete with gospel choir, the delicate ‘To The End’ and an energetic airing of ‘Coffee & TV’, which pleases the hardy souls who have come dressed as the cute milk-carton guy from the video. Band and audience are enjoying themselves so much that even the dated plod of ‘Country House’ is good fun. A high-tempo ‘Parklife’ sees a guest appearance from Phil Daniels who, bearded and dishevelled, looks like he’s prepared for his vocal slot by going on a week-long drinking spree.
A closing pairing of ‘End Of A Century’ and the truly majestic ‘This Is A Low’ (best Blur song ever, anyone?) finish proceedings, before the band return for a four-song encore: ‘Under The Westway’ (stately), ‘For Tomorrow’ (prompting a mass singalong to its “La la, la-la-la” chorus), ‘The Universal’ (makes us think of British Gas, sorry) and a final, raucous ‘Song 2’ which has the audience bellowing “Woo-hoo!” before it even kicks off. And with that Blur depart, consigning another part of our youth to the past. All that remains is for us to pick up our zimmer frames and hobble home. If we can remember where that is.