After the insane amount of touring Blur did up to and including 1997 (where the entire year was literally spent on the road), Blur took it easy in 1998. Their headlining slot at the Glastonbury festival was the only major gig of the year. To prep for it, they played three low-key warm-up shows (one of which was a fan-club only show). The tour dates (if you want to call it a tour!) are below. The available recordings are highlighted:
23rd - Alley Cat, Reading, UK
24th - Q Club, Birmingham, UK (fan-club only show)
25th - Pavilion, Bath, UK
27th - Glastonbury Festival, UK
Recordings of every show apart from the first one in Reading are in hand and offer fascinating listening. (Damon and Graham also made an appearance at the Meltdown Festival in London in July, playing a set with Silver Apples...a recording of this also exists and is superb, even though it's not technically a Blur show).
The interesting thing is the set list they used for these shows...a real weirdo of a running order:
Girls & Boys
On Your Own
End Of A Century
Country Sad Ballad Man
South Park (aka Freestyle aka Trailerpark)
There's No Other Way
I'm Just A Killer For Your Love
This Is A Low
Death Of A Party
So many strange things about the set, including Girls and Boys and On Your Own as openers, the revival of Repetition (which seems such an odd and random choice...the only previous live recordings are from the early 1990s Leisure-era shows), the live debut of Trailerpark (under a couple of working names, a year before it would appear on 13), and the first ever live performances of Essex Dogs. Now, while this is a great song (in my opinion, at least...I know many fans don't care for it at all), it was a rather strange choice to introduce into the set as an encore, especially at Glastonbury! However, it seems to have gone down really well, judging from the recordings.
An interesting thing to note is that the tapes of the Bath and Birmingham shows sound like the small club shows they were, with lots of intimate and humorous exchanges with the crowds. The band sound like they're having a blast and the crowd sounds like a non-stop party, just how you'd want a gig to be. By the time they get to Glastonbury, the band are constantly worrying about the crush of the crowd at the front and the abysmal weather conditions for the poor festival-goers (1998's festival was very muddy, wet, and unsanitary). They even stopped a song in the middle and threatened to leave the stage if things didn't settle down in front (during Country Sad Ballad Man). According to many accounts I've read, Blur were so appalled by the conditions of the festival that they vowed never to perform there again (and they didn't...until 2009, of course)!
All in all, even though the number of shows they played is quite small, they offer fascinating listening and act as a bridge between the headiness and success of touring the Blur album and the experimental era of 13.
By the way, if anyone has a copy of the Reading show, please contact me privately!