Who would've thought it? Almost a decade and a half after their very public mid-nineties spats, indie pop behemoths Blur and Oasis are still well and truly wowing crowds, grabbing headlines and flogging records. Sure, we've all grown slightly slower, wiser and fatter over the past fifteen years but, from a distance at least, both groups are looking, and sounding very much as they did back when they were to be found propping up the Good Mixer.
Image via maccosta
The beauty of the Blur vs Oasis feuds – made perfectly for the pages of the NME – was the way in which they played up to Beano-esque British national stereotypes; working class Northerners into lager-fuelled fist pumping music for lads vs effette middle-class art school softies from the South East. Whether or not that's where the real roots of these bands lie, that's how it played out in the press, and didn't they lap it up. Time hasn't worn away the outlines of these caricatures, if anything, they've grown stronger over time, resulting in very different gig-going experiences, showcasing totally different British mindsets, at the Blur and Oasis summer 2009 enormo-shows.
Whilst Oasis rolled their rock juggernaut into the home of British football, accustomed to hosting the English football team and other events of religious national importance, Blur took up residence at Hyde Park – home of swans, afternoons spent on the Serpentine, bordered by the upwardly-mobile enclaves of Notting Hill, Knightsbridge and Chelsea. The former saw showers of warm lager, single blokes, piss-missiles thrown in and around the crowd with an underlying feeling that large-scale rioting could break out at any moment, the latter saw happy smiling couples enjoying picnics, chilled white wine and discarded copies of The Guardian blowing gently in the soft evening breeze.
Inevitably, perhaps, the two shows offered very different spectacles. Oasis, as ever, were full of the trade-marked brand Gallagher swagger; confrontational, aggressive, eternal chip on shoulder. They've never been the cheeriest of bands, but there seemed to be a dark cloud over the Mancunian brothers tonight – maybe something to do with The Enemy's late cancellation of their support slot (something that Noel seemed particularly pissed-off about). As expected, they pummelled through a fairly predictable setlist of stadium chuggers, greatest hits, and the bits where Liam is allowed to sing the songs that he wrote all on his own – all honed by years of working the global stadium circuit. Maybe it was the rain that drenched throughout the day (I was standing), maybe it was the booze (I was right-royally rat-arsed), but I left/staggered out of Wembley with the feeling that, whilst good and the vast majority of people would have gone home happy, Oasis were slightly tired, slightly sluggish, and slightly underwhelming.
Blur, on the other hand got it totally right. They had the magic, the little extra sparkle that Oasis lacked. Maybe it's down to the fact that Damon and gang have come back after their lengthy hiatus, maybe its all still a novelty to them, maybe it was the venue, maybe the crowd. Whatever the reason, Blur at Hyde Park was a great gig, one that will long remain in the memory.
They started slowly, even timidly, perhaps a few butterflies despite a headline set at Glastonbury the weekend before. Within the first ten minutes of them taking to the stage, you are reminded how great it is to have Blur back – truly outstanding songs such as Girls & Boys, She's So High and There's No Other Way – all gems and tossed off early. As the sun started to set, both band and crowd really started to warm up, and the evening became truly magical. The set was peppered with well and truly (note the capital) Great moments – the crowd taking over the singing for Tender, the obligatory appearance of Phil Daniels for Parklife, the stompathon that is Song 2, the delicate beauty of This is A Low and set closer The Universal.
On leaving Wembley, the faces of my fellow gig goers were tired, hungry, bloated from beer and wet from rain, at Hyde Park, we left with beatific smiles, and filled with a warm, golden glow. That says it all.