The return of Blur was one of the most thorny musical news of this first quarter of the 21st century. Framed in a context of 90s nostalgia and the reactivation of the top brass of Britpop groups, meeting the band again and that instead of Blur it was a bluff, would have been the embarrassing epitaph for an entire musical generation. But no: it was a thunderstorm (worth the metaphor).
Everything was exceptional on Thursday night at La Riviera in Madrid. First, because it was not planned. If it hadn’t rained stubbornly for days, the Primavera Sound Madrid concert venue (the refurbished City of Rock in Arganda) would not have been disabled to celebrate the first day of the festival. The driest year on record has brought us an improbable wet June. Damon Albarn alluded to this from the stage, insulting those who did not believe in climate change. The relocation of Blur to La Riviera was the solution that the organization of the festival could provide in the face of the cancellation of the day’s concerts. An output that could only satisfy 2,000 people and that logically did not compensate those who had bought the ticket to see New Order, Halsey, Le Tigre, Sparks, Pusha T, Perfume or Alison Goldfrapp.
If this trick had not been pulled out of the hat, it would not have given rise to a series of reflections, both in person and on the networks, about the experience of seeing a group in a room compared to the experience in a festival. An aspect that music critic Nando Cruz addresses in depth in his recent book Macrofestivals. The black hole of music: “Everything in the world of festivals is a matter of size. And the size is the origin of all its problems (…). The bigger it is, the more numbers you have to end up watching the concerts from afar (…). The more stages a macrofestival has, the more likely it is that several of your favorite groups are performing at the same time and the sound of one interferes with the sound of the other”. And Cruz warns: “There are macro-festivals that overwhelm the physical and mental capacities of their audience. There are festivals on a human scale and festivals that are superhuman.”
Primavera Sound is the largest festival in Spain by number of attendees. According to the 2022 data published by the Association of Music Promoters: 500,700 attendees (tickets sold every day, actually) and 672 concerts. The forced downscaling exercise that took place at La Riviera on Thursday turned the festival into a ‘human’ place and led to a recurring conversation in the huddles: this is something else, what a treat to see them up close, how good it sounds, I never thought I would see them like this, how close they feel, how comfortable it is; all you had to do was listen as you passed through the crowd. Damon Albarn said it —he spoke a lot at the concert— with a tautology loaded with sense: “Obviously this isn’t Primavera, but it is”. If they hadn’t played last night at La Riviera, some would not have remembered that they did it on that same stage exactly 20 years ago, and the room wasn’t even full, according to chronicled Muzikalia.
Therefore, no matter how well-intentioned the festival’s initiative to offer at least this concert may have been, it is partly shot in the foot, since it confronts two models of live music in a very crude way: that of the macrofestival versus that of the hall ; while the former offers quantity, the latter gives you intensity.
It is difficult to imagine that the wild reaction of the public to the prodigious concert offered by Blur in La Riviera would have happened at two in the morning in the open-air venue of the festival. The glasses of water with which Damon showered the audience, sometimes even squirting from his own mouth, reached far. As well as the aerial returns of glasses of beer, which flew from the last rows to the first, some even reaching the feet of the group. And everything was fine.
There were bodies in the wings sailing on seas of arms, that security was hardly able to sink. Albarn and Grahan Coxon repeatedly pounced on the meat of the front row, grabbed by the guards from behind, kneaded by their audience in front. There was pogo, there were screams, there was a youthful energy recovered at 40, up and down the stage, thanks to the magical rejuvenating properties that songs hide, when they are as explosive as Parklife, Song 2 either Girls And Boys, which of course they touched.
But the concert began with a new song, the very little pop and somewhat out of place St Charles Square, included on Blur’s comeback album to be released on July 21, The Ballad Of Darren. And it was not the only new one: the roundest The Narcissist, first single from the album, could be enjoyed in the encore. The first part of the concert was dotted with songs from the early 90s, such as the founding popscene (1992) or There’s No Other Way (of the Leisure, 1992) or Tracy Jacks and Trouble in the Message Center (both of the parklife, 1994). The big ones hits They arrived in the second half, starting with Coffee & TV, Graham Coxon’s moment of the concert, since it is his song and he performs it himself. Between somersaults on the ground and circus acrobatics with the guitar, last night Coxon received the love of the public, who no longer blame him for leaving the band in 2002. Damon also forgave him in 2008 and the friendship and understanding of Coxon is evident. those who were boys with the weight of global success and today, some gentlemen who are together for laughter.
Albarn, at 55 years old and looking like an office worker in Casual Friday, Ready to have a good time in the pub, he sprinkled his interventions with a festival of humor between one song and another, although he moderated as the performance progressed. After thanking the audience, in Spanish, for the applause for the songs, he gave himself up to a linguistic explanation of the word “thank you”, pronounced with a lisp. The singer explained to the attentive audience that the “literal” meaning was “greasy ass,” and from there he couldn’t help but laugh every time he said “grass-ass” and he even patted himself on the buttock.
In the second half of the concert they fell Parklife, Song 2 or the exciting To The End, that always sounds like melancholy of happy times. The Ballad Tend, that opened its rough disk 13, He also entered at the time of the encore. Less humorous and more tender, Damon approached the edge of the stage and pulled a tear from more than one: “It’s strange, but at this point we feel that you are family,” he said, adding: “I hope you feel that we are also family for you.” And that is the meaning of pop music.