Then-current album: Leisure
Opening act: The Senseless Things
Back of ticket ad: sadly, I don’t have this one in front of me right this sec, but doubtless it was equally strange and inappropriate as so many of the recent ones were.
I’m actually a little surprised that there was as long a gap between the last show and this one — sure, only two weeks or so, but it felt like I was going to a show every week at least.
As for this show — and indeed, this tour — there was a lot going on, most of it offstage.
Funny thing, Blur — Damon Albarn, funny man. All this time down the road I don’t think I entirely…not GET him, but rather, he has spent the past fifteen years consistently punching above his weight and to my mind not really doing anything much with it. Yes yes, Gorillaz/going to Mali/whatever else he seems to like to do, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t know any of that exists, but he seems to have long since reached a point where he is the least necessary element for anything he does, and has succeeded in becoming fundamentally uninteresting to me. No there there beyond a ‘oh yeah, Damon Albarn’ shrug.
My friend Eric J. L. would say otherwise, probably, and he did way back when too. I first heard of them at all thanks to Melody Maker as per usual, but when Leisure, their debut, came out in America in fall of 1991 he wrote up the review for KLA DJs and probably was the most prescient listener in the area. While the band were more or less lumped in with a Madchestergaze label, Eric made a brief, cogent — and in the end, accurate — argument that there was something far more art-pop about the group in the end that would see them through to something else, while noting the production presence of Mike Thorne in particular. Good call, really.
Now this all said I did enjoy Leisure — and in fact Blur in general, this will be the first of several entries on the band — and I was looking forward to seeing them in fall 1991, not least because a band I adored even more, Slowdive, were going to open, as they’d both ended up on the SBK label in the US. I forgot why exactly it was I couldn’t go to that show but I remember being only slightly bummed about it because Slowdive ended up unable to show at all, so the Supreme Love Gods opened instead. (You don’t need to know anything more than that about them, I figure.) I heard good things and all about Blur’s show so by the time they came around again I figured regardless of whoever the opener was I might as well go and see what was up.
The more I type the more I realize I really must have listened to Leisure a hell of a lot, because more of the album comes back to me than I had first guessed. It was the American version of the album so no “Sing,” which I only properly heard years later via the Trainspotting soundtrack, but otherwise there’s a lot of stuff on there that, in its own way, fits into my unsurprisingly overarching sense of London in particular as this strange and cool place to me at that time. My first visit to the UK had long been booked at this point — a trip in August 1992 to attend the Tolkien centenary conference at Oxford — and some part of me had to be gearing up bigtime. And all this before Blur really played up the UK identity games too.
It also helps today that I was reminded of a spot called the Good Mixer in Camden, which anyone who read MM during those years soon knew all about, and probably thought of as some kind of Studio 54 for the scene, whatever the scene was. But now I’m also thinking of the song “Birthday” on Leisure, which I’m pretty sure I played on my birthday in 1992 (how very me to do that), even though said song is all about isolation and loneliness on a day like that, which weren’t my spirits at all. Strange, what sticks in the memory and why, and I don’t think I’ve returned to that song on that specific day since — probably just a glamouring in the image, however romantically negative.
Not sure who I went with to this show but by now I had to be going with a variety of usual Anglophonic suspects. It also helped that the opening band was one I kinda enjoyed thanks to their own regular MM appearances and an okay enough album, The First of Too Many. The Senseless Things had also scored my attention a bit because they were friends and/or fans of the Dickies, who I’d now already seen a few times, so I figured they might be something like that. Turns out they weren’t, except in a very broad pop/punk sense with vague 70s affectations amid the early nineties fashions as such — lots of bouncing and leaping but not quite like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.
They were fun enough, though — I was watching from the middle of the Palace floor, no need to crowd up at all, and they seemed to be wanting to do little more than have a random good time, which sounds about right for any band first touring America, I figure. Also, they weren’t headlining, so no real pressure on them.
It was a little different for Blur, as it turned out.
But I didn’t know this at the time, almost nobody did. But this blog entry about the tour sums it up pretty well — crushing financial obligations, a failure of an initial manager and general ‘do this or else’ concerns, living off of their T-shirt sales (which I happily contributed to). More of this surfaced much later on the Starshaped film but when, like me, you were just somebody out to see a show, none of that even slightly impinges on your consciousness. No surprise there, but there is a retroactive surprise in knowing that the band were under such ridiculous pressure — speaking more to my general naivete then (and now?) as anything else.
I remember enjoying the show but they did all seem a bit frazzled, like things weren’t quite in balance. The standouts in my brain are scattershot but there — “Oily Water,” which I already knew from an issue of Volume magazine, got played, as did then new single “Popscene” and a variety of other things. At one point Damon had pulled out a bullhorn and was singing distortedly through it — not quite as crazily as I’d seen Gibby Haynes do the previous year, to put it mildly, but it seemed to work. The rest of the band are more of a mess in my head, Dave I barely saw, Alex was fairly stand-there-and-play-on, Graham moving around the place a lot — and they definitely kicked up a lot of noise, so I will have to give them that. If they were still inadvertantly clinging to whatever shoegaze was, they did so well enough when it came to volume.
But one reason why I break this show down into the individual people more is due to the fact that for once I was dead center — I worked my way up to the front of the stage, nobody in front of me except a security guard or two, pressed against the barrier. I think I figured that compared to a lot of the grunge/punk/et al shows I’d been to there would be relatively less danger from moshpits and stagedivers. This was true…but I didn’t escape the floaters. I think they were there through the show, their legs suddenly slamming down on my shoulders or their heads almost clocking mine.
So, after I while I did something that I’ve never done before or since — when one came along over my head or thereabouts, rather than helping them along…I slugged them, as hard as I could and often, right in the gut if I could help it. Because I was already sick of it.
I only remember one guy getting mad at me and shouting something in my direction as he melted back into the crowd, and I’m sure I was a little concerned at points that I would either be tossed out by security or tracked down by an aggrieved fellow audience member. Didn’t happen but it all felt so satisfying to do that I didn’t mind at all, and I like to think — however ridiculously — that it was a little bit of vengeance against all the jerks who pretty much used a show, any show, to do, well, stupid shit.
There’s one other thing I will also remember for the rest of my days too. When Blur first came out on stage, one by one, Damon appeared walking in a bit of a strutting slouch. His hair, at this point pretty short, was sculpted into a bit of a pompadour.
Something about his look, his walk and more besides meant that as soon as I laid eyes on him I thought to myself, “Man, dude looks a lot like Morrissey.”
Not a second or two later, people around me started going “Hey, Morrissey! Morrissey!”
I remember Damon looking a bit annoyed at that. To which all I can say is, hey, if you’re going to go to that length when it comes to hero worship…