BLUR: LIVE IN HYDE PARK (2009)
1) She's So High; 2) Girls And Boys; 3) Tracy Jacks; 4) There's No Other Way; 5) Jubilee; 6) Badhead; 7) Beetlebum; 8) Out Of Time; 9) Trimm Trabb; 10) Coffee And TV; 11) Tender; 12) Country House; 13) Oily Water; 14) Chemical World; 15) Sunday Sunday; 16) Parklife; 17) End Of A Century; 18) To The End; 19) This Is A Low; 20) Popscene; 21) Advert; 22) Song 2; 23) Death Of A Party; 24) For Tomorrow; 25) The Universal.
In their heyday, Blur never got around to releasing a live album, except for a highly limited issue of a Live At Budokan thing that has since become a discographic rarity. Once, however, the rift between Albarn and Coxon got partially remedied and the reunited band started delighting fans with occasional gigs at the end of the 2000s, a whole series of live albums ensued — most of them, surprisingly or not, recorded in the exact same spot: Hyde Park, London. Granted, this is probably the hipper one of the two centers of the world (the other one being Madison Square Garden, but that be Bruce Springsteen's and Billy Joel's royal domain, after all), but still, kind of weird to see not one, but two live albums from Hyde Park appear in mid-2009 (the July 2 and July 3 shows, respectively), and then Parklive follow up on them in 2012; the first two albums have completely identical setlists, and the one on Parklive is only slightly different.
I have the slightly easier available July 3 show available, and have also seen the Parklive DVD, which probably empowers me not to separate this text into three different reviews. Most importantly, Blur ain't no Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead when it comes to live shows — in fact, I am that close to saying that they pretty much suck as a live band, or at least as a provider of live albums. For starters, I think they make very poor choices in mixing engineers, or perhaps this is just the inevitable curse of a huge open venue like Hyde Park: the sound is godawful on both the older audio and the newer video album. The guitar is too noisy, and the voice is drowning in the noise — what used to be brilliantly produced and packaged pop-rock songs is regularly reduced to unappealing, sloppy noise-rock, with all the hooks covered in sonic rubble, and the crowd noises placed way too high in the mix. Being one with the crowd is great and all, but I kinda sorta would like to hear my ʽGirls And Boysʼ and ʽTenderʼ from the mouth of their creator rather than 500,000 ecstatic English people.
On the other hand, it's not as if the mouth of their creator worked so efficiently in a live setting. Albarn does not look like a perfect natural when it comes to singing — in the studio, it seems as if he had to work hard to combine the necessary degree of emotionality with technique, and when he does not have that opportunity, things are not good. He can get off key, flub some key lines, and, most importantly, he can lose that cool-as-heck London sneer and replace it with a punkish power brawl, making the songs sound far more ordinary and boring than they really are. Coxon does a much better job, very loyally reproducing most of the guitar melodies and effects, but since he hardly ever tries to explore new possibilities, it all ultimately comes down to «how well has he nailed that?», and it's always well enough, but not perfect enough.
In the end, it all simply becomes a massive celebration of The Realm of Blur: we are supposed to kowtow and acknowledge their historic mission and spiritual value for dozens of thousands of people in the UK. I kowtow, and I acknowledge, and I am happy for everybody at Hyde Park in 2009 and in 2012, but the fact remains that there is not a single song here that I would either (a) enjoy more than the original studio version or (b) start perceiving from a slightly different angle from the original. Had this been my introduction to Blur, I would have remained totally unimpressed, no matter how spectacular the setlist might look on paper. And speaking of the setlist, The Great Escape gets mighty snubbed once again. That is not cool: I want to hear live versions of ʽCharmless Manʼ and ʽStereotypesʼ, even if they will probably suck like everything else.
In addition, there are such issues as tremendously long pauses at the end of the show (usually edited out on non-bootlegs, but apparently they needed to justify two CDs), silly audience baits (when they get them to woo-hoo during the extended drum intro to ʽSong 2ʼ — I mean, seeing as how it has become their signature song and all, it'd at least be fun to see them turn it live into an extended jam polygon or something, like the Who did with ʽMy Generationʼ, but no dice), and an occasional enigmatic bit of Albarn banter: apparently, "Vote Dave! Vote Dave!" refers not to David Cameron (thank God!), but to Dave Rowntree, the drummer, who was trying to run for Parliament at the time (and no, it didn't help).
To sum it up: Blur are a great pop-rock band, but only a passable live band. Live playing is not one of their major strengths (not that the same criticism doesn't apply to the vast majority of pop-rock bands from the last two decades, of course), and since, up to this point, their half-hearted reunions have only resulted in live albums, there has not really been a lot of sense in that reunion, other than heat Hyde Park up a couple degrees on a nice summer day. No thumbs down (there's so many great songs here, and they manage not to murder at least half of them), but no serious excitement, either. See them if you ever have the chance — a legend is a legend, after all — but for the ideal moving picture, choose a set of lip-synced videos instead.