Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blur in France: An Aural Love Affair

The photo above is from Blur's show in Lyon, France, on July 5, 2009. But the overall point of this post is that, from listening to loads of shows over the years, one thing is very obvious, and that is the fact that Blur playing live in France is always special.

There are many bands that seem to rise to the occasion even more than usual in certain locales to deliver shows that are better than their best. Some of the most unique and arguably the best concerts of Led Zeppelin's career came on their 1971 and 1972 tours of Japan, as well as at the LA Forum in Los Angeles. The Who always seemed to play even better when in New York City or London (although Live at Leeds is simply stunning). There are numerous other examples of bands who have that special place(s) where they seem to deliver every time. And in my opinion, after listening to and researching live Blur for over a dozen years, for them, it's in France.

There seems to be something about the response from the fans, who always sound like the perfect crowd...not too boisterous, but not cold. They're energetic, loud, appreciative, funny, and seem to have a rapport and connection with the band you can *feel*, even aurally. And it gets reflected in the mood of the band (and the performance of the songs). Even with the language barrier, these shows prove that the right crowd and the right band can meet to make transcendent music if all of the conditions are met. Below is a cataloging of all of the known Blur recordings in France with some notes for each (not excerpted from Black Book, although the sentiments will be the same!)

-Aeronef, Lille, France October 18, 1991
Blur played three nights at the Fnac/Les Inrockuptibles Festival in France...this is the second night. This show has many previews from Modern Life is Rubbish, two years in advance of its release. This concert also included the earliest known version of Popscene played live. The band are in a very humorous mood and joke constantly back and forth with the crowd.

-La Cigale, Paris, France October 19, 1991
The final night of the Fnac Festival, this is a more serious and mature show, with the band delivering a tight set that has the crowd going nuts. Includes a manic Day Upon Day to close the whole thing out.

-L’Ubu, Rennes, France February 15, 1992
The earliest 1992 show available, this contains the earliest live versions of Colin Zeal and Pressure on Julian. I'm All Over and Sing are also included and are rarities. A similar atmosphere to the Paris show from 1991.

-Rennes Festival, France April 15, 1994
This is the earliest 1994 show available and the only one to pre-date the release of Parklife. Included are previews of Parklife, Girls and Boys, Lot 105, Jubilee, and a rare (and first) version of London Loves. The relationship between Blur and France is really taking hold at this point.

-Les Montjoye, Besancon, France October 20, 1994
This show (and the following one) took place during Blur's nearly two-week tour of France in October 1994. This is one of the lower key shows in France, although it is played very well.

-Art Rock Festival, St. Brieuc, France October 28, 1994
A show from the end of the French tour of 1994, this one, along with the Besancon show, is one of the few uneven shows. This one is much better at the beginning...by the end of the show, the energy level begins to wane, although overall it's still very solid.

-La Bataclan, Paris, France October 26, 1995
A solid, solid show from late 1995, this one is better than the two recordings from 1994. Nothing spectacular here in terms of set list, although the communion between the band and crowd is very special, especially by the time they reach The Universal at the end (complete with Alex playing bass in his underwear!)

-L’Escall, Nantes, France March 4, 1996
Perhaps the only outright stinker from Blur in France, this show alternates between brilliance and sloppiness, and has many bizarre moments, including some truly hilarious stage banter, such as:

Damon: "Alex thinks smoking brings him closer to God."
Alex: "Damon thinks he is God!"

-Olympia, Paris, France March 5, 1996
A fabulous show and one of my favorite Blur concerts. Damon has the crowd eating out of his hand by the third song and they embark on a long and amazing set, complete with the first For Tomorrow since the fall of 1995 and one of the best versions of Entertain Me. This is among the best of 1996, as well one of my personal favorite Blur concerts.

-La Mutualite, Paris, France September 15, 1999
A wonderful show in front of a very receptive and vocal crowd. The atmosphere between band and audience is perfect, and this show includes a rare version of Fried, as well as one of the best versions of Battle you'll ever hear. A magical night.

-La Bataclan, Paris, France May 19, 2003
Hands down one of the best shows from 2003, this one has an atmosphere similar to the Paris show above. The crowd pushes the band to greater heights, which includes one of the best versions of Beetlebum, EVER (yes, even though Graham was not present). One of the prime examples of how French crowds (and Paris, in particular) bring out the best in Blur.

-Olympia, Paris, France October 16, 2003
A "professional" show from Blur, this one has some rarities, such as Blue Jeans as the third song and Beetlebum played as the first encore! Blur is a bit more "academic" in their approach, but that doesn't make it any less interesting or exciting to listen to. Again, one of the best of 2003, and from Paris (no coincidence).

-Les Nuits de Fourviere Festival, Lyon, France July 5, 2009
The final Blur concert in France (to date), this one was described in the press as more "subdued" than the English shows the month before. But this one is better than them all (apart from Wolverhampton and Glastonbury). The crowd clapping during She's So High is literally breathtaking...if you want a prime example of how an audience can CONTRIBUTE to the concert experience, it's in this show. It sounds like a reunion between old friends and is one of the most magical, if not THE most magical, recordings I've ever listened to in this regard.

So there you have it. Blur in France...never a bad show, almost always a fantastic show, and one of those places where they always get on fantastically with the crowd, who add to the whole experience. Hopefully more French recordings will surface so we can enjoy this relationship even more!

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