Blur in America: David Safar's account of the band's L.A. show

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Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon of Blur, live at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif. on October 20, 2015 (MPR Photo / David Safar)

Blur returned to America this week to reclaim their Britpop throne. They graced stages in Los Angeles and New York, skipping the rest of the country for now. Their set in Los Angeles didn't feel like the reunion set many fans anticipated; instead, it was a reminder that Blur's music will stand the test of time. Unlike the music of most of their '90s contemporaries, Blur's songs sounded timeless, even two decades removed from their initial success.

Once again backed by Graham Coxon, Blur's performance at The Hollywood Bowl was true to the band's beginnings. There were none of the common production thrills we have come to expect from modern alternative rock: Blur sported no in-ear monitors and there were no backing tracks as they performed a set peppered with hits but far from a hit parade.

It was a very intentional performance of select hits across their catalogue, combined with songs from 2015's The Magic Whip and deeper album tracks for the true fans. From the start, Blur weaved between new songs and choice hits like "There's No Other Way" and "Coffee & TV." Surprisingly, Damon Albarn included back-to-back Think Tank tracks in the middle of the show without including the Gorillaz'esque "Crazy Beat." It made you almost forgot about Coxon's absence for that chapter of the group's career as they meandered through "Caravan" and "Out of Time."

Albarn's boyish charm still had a hint of rebellion as he professed that in Blur's first visits to America, they would daydream of playing L.A.'s historic Hollywood venue. Before playing the band's most identifiable hit, Damon pointed out that when people don't know the band Blur, all he has to say is, "WOO HOO!" That led into a truncated version of "Song 2" that gave the crowd just enough time to populate their social-media feeds.

There was no lack of celebrity fans in the crowd, but that was of no concern to Albarn as he left the stage, wired mic in hand, to walk through the crowd mid-performance. Fred Armisen joined the band for a version of "Parklife" that name-checked Echo Park, a reference that only makes sense in the newest Portlandia of Los Angeles.

Highlights of the show included performances of "Tender," "Beetlebum" and "Girls & Boys": Each one was a reminder that Albarn is a better frontman and musician than ever. The backing singers on stage sent the visual cue that Albarn's musical sensibilities left alt-rock behind in the last century. His playful side let all the imperfections of live rock music ring through, while he commanded control of the band and the audience.

Blur fashionably played one four-song encore, ending with "The Universal." It didn't feel like a farewell performance. Instead, it felt like the start of what might be a reinvigorated band ready to carry out their legacy — making their return to America something worth waiting for.

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  • Graham Coxon of Blur on 'The Magic Whip' and the simple life Following the release of Blur's first album in 12 years, guitarist Graham Coxon joined The Current's Jade via telephone to talk about how 'The Magic Whip' came together and about his vision of the simple life.

5 Photos

  • Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
    Damon Albarn steps into the crowd. (MPR Photo / David Safar)
  • Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
    Blur perform at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015 (MPR Photo / David Safar)
  • Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
    Damon Albarn on the big screen (MPR Photo / David Safar)
  • Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
    Guitarist Graham Coxon (MPR Photo / David Safar)
  • Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015
    Blur live in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 20, 2015 (MPR Photo / David Safar)

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