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Blur at Southend Cliffs Pavilion
28 Jan 1997

By Emily Harrup

As the evening progresses, the Sneaker Pimps are trying hard to keep the attention of a distracted, fidgety crowd that obviously aren’t listening to them. The tension is rising and the support puts on a brave face to perform to an audience that simply wants them to get off the stage. Between songs, a vague, polite, and undeniably pathetic sprinkling of applause breaks out.

When they finish, the tension increases even more. The PA blares out nondescript dance music and as each track fades away another cheer breaks out as the riotous crowd falsely thinks Blur are about to walk onto the stage. In the meantime, they push everyone in front of them, behind them and to each side, jump about manically and fall over themselves and each other. And this is before the band even comes on. By the time Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree arrive on the stage, there have been so many false starts that it takes a few seconds for the crowd to realise what’s going on.

As Graham launches into the opening chords of “Beetlebum”, Blur’s new single which went to no. 1 this week, Alex wanders around the stage casually munching on an apple, then lights up a cigarette, picks up his bass and joins in.

The band then proceeds to bestow a delightful if seemingly illogical choice of both old and new songs on the hysterical crowd. In fact, they seem to be playing only their own personal favourites. “Country House” is absent from the playlist. So is “There’s No Other Way”, (Graham Coxon confesses to hating the latter). “We’re going to play the B-side to our second single, ‘There’s No Other Way’, now,” Damon announces. The crowd goes wild. “No, we’re not playing that! We’re playing the B-side.” If this is a disappointment, the crowd don’t show it. Blur play two songs from their second album, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”: “Advert” and “Oily Water”, both of which are played at double speed and with terrifying energy. Damon flings himself around the stage, bouncing up and down and zooming around like a human pinball. Graham skids across the floor and rolls around on his back with his guitar. Damon hurls himself into the audience. Even Alex looks lively as he lights up cigarette no. 10 of the performance.

Everyone is having a good time. The band are enjoying themselves so much that nobody else can fail to. At one point in the gig, Damon turns to the crowd and says sincerely, “When you come off tour, you miss it, you know. You miss the crowd when you go home.” The men cheer. The girls scream. The entire crowd stops dead and listens rapturously to the new songs, trying to imprint them on their brains, in between jumping up and down and pushing each other about during the faster ones and swaying blissfully during the slower ones.

For the encore, they play “On Your Own” -- another new song -- “Parklife”, “The Universal”, and “Sing” (which is the only song they played from their debut album, “Leisure”). And then it is all over, almost as quickly as it began.

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