Modern Blur Is Not Rubbish

By Brittany MenjivarApril 17, 2024

Modern Blur Is Not Rubbish
BLUR: COACHELLA WARM-UP SHOW, The Fox Theater, Pomona, April 10, 2024.

Last Wednesday morning, I emerged from the supermarket with a two-liter bottle of electrolyte water and three energy bars, which I promptly tucked in the fanny pack around my waist. I drove east, in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains—but I wasn’t planning to hike. My destination was Blur’s Coachella warm-up show, the Britpop band’s first appearance in the United States since 2015. I arrived at Pomona’s historic Fox Theater around 1:00 p.m., eight hours before the band was set to play. Early? Nope—dozens of fans were camped on the sidewalk, many with lawn chairs.

Reader, beware. It’s only fair of me to disclose that Blur (and, more broadly, front man Damon Albarn’s discography) precipitated my entry into journalism. I spent my teenage years religiously monitoring the calendar for album anniversaries so I could pitch devotional retrospectives to music blogs. Even now, I’m flirting with hyperbole as I write. Maybe it’s the mythos surrounding Albarn, who, after defining the Britpop genre in the 1990s, went on to challenge American perceptions of celebrity by spearheading Gorillaz, often deemed the first “virtual band,” in the new millennium. Maybe it’s the precarity of Blur’s return: in an interview mere months before the show, Albarn had tossed around the possibility of another hiatus. Maybe it’s the scale of the music (that night, the set list featured three six-minute epics). Or maybe it’s the fact that Blur ascended from a regional act into an international phenomenon. When Albarn penned the lyrics for Modern Life Is Rubbish, he was clearly talking about life in the UK, wryly referencing teatime and the Underground. Yet three decades later, fans with every accent imaginable—many coming from across borders or “ponds”—gathered to sing his lyrics in a small stateside suburb.

The concert kicked off just after 9:00 p.m. with “St. Charles Square,” a rollicking single from the 2023 comeback album The Ballad of Darren (named for Darren “Smoggy” Evans, the guys’ loyal bodyguard). The crowd received it as if it were already a classic. And, though all 1,500 fans in the sold-out venue knew every lyric by heart, the ensuing set brimmed with surprises. The band repeatedly rejected the constraints of time and chart placement; B-sides followed platinum singles. Especially striking was the first live rendition of “Death of a Party” in 10 years, featuring backing vocals, percussion, and dances from the Torres Martinez Cahuilla Bird Singers, a group of Indigenous performers from the Coachella Valley.

Albarn’s stage presence was typically, delightfully expressive. The artist exhibited the same mannerisms one might observe in archived Top of the Pops footage: rolling his eyes around, striking silly poses. (Guitarist Graham Coxon was similarly fired up, at one point executing an impressive somersault.) His passion was most evident during the band’s certified crowd-pleasers—particularly “Girls and Boys,” during which he loomed out over the “herd” to grab fans’ hands, and “Song 2,” during which each “woo-hoo!” seemed to approach Platonic ideals of ecstasy.

The band’s departure from the stage was followed by a whopping five-song encore. Their debut performance of “Fool’s Day”—a 2010 Record Store Day exclusive single—came like a gift. So did “Tender,” for which the Cahuilla Bird Singers joined the band once more. Blur sent us off with “The Universal,” a swan song for a dystopian world that soundtracks false hope with sweeping strings. When Albarn initially told us that “it really, really, really could happen” back in ’95, his words dripped with irony. But last week, in that tiny theater, their meaning was transformed by the closeness of our shoulders, the alternating lyrics and laughter on our lips, and the catharsis of a gossamer promise fulfilled. It really, really, really could happen. Reader, it did.


Photo of Blur by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brittany Menjivar was born and raised in the DMV; she now works and plays in the City of Angels. With her partner in crime Erin Satterthwaite, she runs Car Crash Collective, hosting late-night literary readings at Footsies Bar in Los Angeles. Her poetry and fiction have been featured in HADDream Boy Book ClubSpectra, and Dirt Child, among other publications. Additionally, she was named a 2023 Best of the Net Award Finalist. You can stream her short film on YouTube’s ALTER Channel, where it has nearly two million views. You can also find her on Substack: she posts cultural criticism via BRITTPOP, and keeps track of the most exciting events happening in L.A. each week via The Angel Almanac.


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