SXSW - BLUR - 13 MARCH 2003 - MTV2 VIRGIN SHOWCASE at LA ZONA ROSA - AUSTIN, TEXAS

1. Ambulance
2. Moroccan Peoples' Revolutionary Bowls Club
3. Girls & Boys
4. Out of Time
5. Beetlebum
6. Gene by Gene
7. Caravan
8. Good Song
9. On the Way to the Club
10. Song 2
11. We've Got a File on You
12. Popscene
Encore
1. Crazy Beat
2. This Is a Low


I read the rumors about the Austin show via the Blur message boards and decided, what the hell, I live six hours from Austin; it's SXSW; and it's Blur, whom I haven't seen properly since 1992.  It's been ten years since my first Blur show; I figured I needed one more live show before my 30th birthday, which is not very far away.  So, being the charming, beautiful and wily creature that I am, I convinced the man in my life to take me to Texas so that we could perhaps see a band that might have been playing a gig based on an internet rumor.  Oh to be young and reckless.

We left Wednesday morning, drove through west Louisiana (I live near New Orleans), into East Texas and steer country, through the teeming metropolis of Houston, and into Dell Corporation home and Texas capital, Austin.  We walked around downtown, had dinner, drank a bit,  passed on the . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead concert at Emos on Sixth St. when we saw the line for entrance wrapping around the block (Trail of Dead are from Texas, it's only natural), and went back to the hotel.  In a stroke of magnificent luck that defies my usual, everyday existence, we bought a newspaper at a coffee shop that told us when and where Blur were playing on the 13th.  We got back to the hotel room and started calling people all over the country on our phones.  "Tomorrow night!  La Zona Rosa!!!  MIDNIGHT!!!!  I SO TOLD YOU THIS WOULD WORK OUT!!"

Early Thursday afternoon, Kurt and I walked to the venue, which is located on the corner of 4th and Rio de Janeiro in the Warehouse District, is surrounded by heavy construction, and is next to a homeless shelter.  Really.  From what we saw of it, La Zona Rosa appeared to be a tiny shithole dive with a capacity of about 400 people, but we were quite mistaken, as shall soon be revealed.  On our trek to lunch, Colbey called me and informed me that Alex, who had been having problems getting the US work permit situation rectified, would not be playing the gig, but would be at the venue, watching Damon and Dave sweat onstage as he kicked it in the chill out room with a case of Tecate.  My hopes of union with the tallest one rose and I smiled big and stupid in anticipation.  Kurt, my beloved, pinched me and we went to lunch.

We went back to the hotel, had a nap after our 44 city block walk round downtown, checked out our sunburns and recuperated after our minor heat exhaustion.  Woke up, took showers, got dolled up, and went to dinner two blocks off the venue.  We were both rather nervous about getting in, because a) we did not attend the SXSW conference, and thus did not have the nametags otherwise known as the "keys to the kingdom" for all events during the festival; and b) we are too cheap to purchase the $120 wristbands that would ensure entrance for us into the club.  We were betting on getting in on our good looks, charm, and cash.  So we had a few beers to balance the emotions.  Some drinkies later, we were in line, giggling with other fans, and making plans to charge the security crew standing eight feet in front of us if they chose not to allow us entrance.

Well now, we were the 41st and 42nd of the plebeian, non-privileged mass to get in.  Easy Peasy.  We entered the joint, and discovered that we had only seen the small chill-out room in our walking adventure beforehand; the stage and bar area are quite large and can hold about 1500 people.  Let me tell you this, though:  the bastards who run the clubs totally jacked up the prices of the booze for the conference.   These people wanted to charge us $3.50 for a CAN OF BUD LIGHT.   To quote Alex, "They lie to you and take your money."  No way.  We may be fairly young, but I'm an unemployed college instructor and he's a civil engineer.  Actual wealth is still a figment of our imaginations at this point in our lives. 

Due to the inflated price of beer, we sobered up pretty quickly and sat on the floor, watching two really skinny white dudes spin onstage.  They seemed quite young and were having much fun fiddling with their Apple laptop, chugging Bud in bottles, and doing their cute little DJ bounce to the music.  We nodded to the music and kept looking at our watches.  At 9:45 PM, the outrageously hyper MTV 2 VJ Jim Shearer introduced our first band of the evening, Simian.  Neither Kurt nor I had heard their music, but we knew they'd toured with Ladytron earlier this year and were sort of folksy/electronic.   Four young Englishmen, who all appeared to be in the late stages of adolescence, came onto the stage.  The keyboard player and drummer were our two DJ's, and the lead singer was a spiky-haired little sprite, accompanied by a very thin, very adorable, angel-voiced bassist named Alex.  Simian were excellent.  They had the band cohesion thing going, where you can tell they're excited about performing together and making music together and possibly being together forever and ever and it's so shiny and gorgeous and they are so young, I don't think any of them shave yet.  I've downloaded a few of their songs, and I can assure you that Simian rock it harder, louder, and with more passion live, especially on "One Dimension" and "Never Be Alone."  Give them a try, they're fun and seem to be sweet young men.  Which is good, because the next band totally pissed me and Kurt off.

First off, The Rapture, whom I believe are from New York, started 25 minutes late.  That was going to eat into Blur time, and Kurt and I were getting antsy by 11:35 PM, since Blur were supposed to take the stage at midnight.  When they finally did grace us with their presence (and if Simian looked as if they'd just finished Sixth Form and were off to Uni with some A-levels and a healthy appreciation for beer and shagging, The Rapture appeared to have the collective age of 5), they did not greet the audience with anything--no smiles, nods of acknowledgement, or lewd gestures, since they are supposed to be SO PUNK and all.  They were awful.  I couldn't decide if they wanted to jam or go electronic or what.  They have a sax player on top of a bassist, a keyboardist, and the guitarist-lead singer.  It was a mess.  No chemistry at all among the musicians, and the lead singer screamed unmelodic ally through the entire set, with all four members ending their shot at glory with a bastard rendition of "Louie, Louie" that could have been performed better by drunken members of a fraternity after floating a keg and smoking a few bongfuls during rush week.  You know you aren't being a total elitist snot when other members of the audience voice the displeasure you've been biting back for the past forty minutes.  A sigh of relief went up when they got off stage.  At this point, many people left--especially those under 21 who'd actually wanted to see The Rapture.  A huge number of people tagged for the conference entered to replace the kiddies.  The crowd for Blur seemed to be thinning out to old, hardcore fans and music industry people.  We dwindled to a nice, comfy mass of about 600. 

Funny aside between sets:  I had to use the toilet, and as I was waiting in line, two girls were trying to decide if they were going to stay for the "TBA Special Guests."  They both spoke in heavy East Texan, and one turned to the other and said, "We may stay, 'cas you know my boyfriend just loves him some Blur."  It was very, very funny, but probably only to me, now that I think about it.

Round 12:15 AM, MTV2 guy comes out again and says, "Alright, if I told you the special guest was Michael Jackson playing SXSW, would you say he was a sell-out?"  Someone in the back of the audience bellowed, "JUST SHUT UP AND GIVE US IT!!"  It was beautiful. 

So, La Moment.  Dave walks out and sits behind the kit, and Damon saunters onto the stage with an electric guitar.  He looked good.  His hair¹s grown out a bit and he seems to have lost a good bit of weight.  He had on this cool blue shirt with this shield thing on the back of it.  We all collectively lost our everloving minds for about three minutes and barraged them all with applause.  I saw someone with a cigarette stumble onto the stage and take up Alex's side, which I was naturally on. This person, whose back was to me, seemed way too short and too chunky to be Alex.  Before Damon said anything, I knew he wasn't there.   Damon greeted us with a "Hey ya'll" that was so cute and humble, it shouted that something was wrong.  Poor Damon, for this is what he did next:

He took out his mobile phone and said, "Alex for some reason can't get his work permit, I don't know why . . . (massive pause) . . . so we've got Chris here tonight to play bass for us, but we're going to call Alex, alright?  The latest it can be there is (looks at watch) 7, he's still in bed (smiles).   (Calls up programmed number)  Let's see if we can get his answering machine (yes, he said "machine") . . . (rolls eyes, grins) It's his voice mail.  Alright, I want everyone to just tell Alex hello . . .(600 people scream HELLO ALEX) . . . (Damon slightly turns away from mic)  It's alright, mate . . ."

Damon looked really distressed and embarrassed.   It wasn't embarrassing, but it was definitely revealing.  Damon and Alex are solid.  I hope this call made Alex feel just a wee bit better and that he smiled, because we were all showing the love.  I now get to tell my friends that I've used Damon Albarn's phone to ring Alex James.  Hee hee hee.

First song, "Ambulance."  Lovely, jazzy, jam.  Simon Tong is playing well and the backup singers (there are 3) lend a nice groove to the entire melody.  Damon's voice is the strongest and most emotive it's been in years.  Kat called me during this song and I remember screaming "He sounds outstanding!!"  Props to Dames.  I'm all "Alex is mah babeh," but Damon has shown me proof that he loves Alex, and thus I must love him now.  Newfound appreciation for Albarn.  RESPECT.

If you've ever seen Blur live, you are aware that Damon babbles when he introduces songs and/or people.  He loses his train of thought in midsentence and looks stoned for 1.5 seconds, and then recovers nervously and a bit dorkishly.  It's rather charming and cute, but I can see how it would piss people off who aren't familiar with the Dames' onstage MO, since he tends to come off rather defensively when he finally does get back on track.  Damon pulled this as he introduced most of the audience to "Moroccan Peoples' Revolutionary Bowls Club."  "We were in Morocco when we recorded this song . . . and  . . . um . . . bowls is a game played in France by old men on a piece of very thin-cut lawn . . . you take the bowl and throw it and you just . . . lob it out there, yeah . . ."  This was accompanied by appropriate hand gestures and an odd look of confusion (that squinty, monkey face he makes when he can't remember the point) midway through the explanation.  Bless.  This song, however, has really heavy bass on it, and the first severe pangs of missing Alex hit Kurt and me at the same time.  We wanted to see our Alex shake his booty and do that unconscious "I keep time with my hair" thing, even though the mighty fringe isn't there anymore.  He still does it, it's a vestigial gesture.  Damon kept going strong, and he's become quite a fine guitarist. 

Damon on the next song up:  "This is a song of ours from 1994."  All of us hard cores knew it was "Girls & Boys" and prepared to shake it accordingly.  But my heart was sort of falling throughout the whole song.  Alex James has one of the smoothest slides in the industry, and this song boasts his signature show-off bassline.  Chris Traynor, the stand in guy, who is in a band of his own (Rival Schools), was very precise, and very good, but he lacks Alex's effortlessly graceful style.  Alex says playing bass is the easiest job in the world, and that he's a lazy bastard who tries to keep his contributions to Blur's repertoire simple, but truly, he does some rather difficult and impressive work that cannot be duplicated by the hands of others.  Damon did not sing during the shouty bit of the song where Alex and Dave usually accompany him.

"Out of Time" followed, and it's so much lovelier and tender live than on disc.  Sweet, sedate, and quiet.  Gentle, but still sexy and alluring.  Ah, to be getting older with Blur, it's quite brilliant.  Damon played the guitar solo and he was excellent.  We were impressed.

Pause.  No Damonspeak for a few moments, but Simon let out a mild crunchy squeak from his guitar that cued us for "Beetlebum."  This is where I can hear the lack of Graham.  Simon seemed to tune a bit lower for this, and he's still not got the hang of the slide part during the intro and the verses.   Chris didn't make the bassline ramble and meander through the chord progression as Alex does, but hey, he kept it together, and this song could have completely fallen apart given the circumstances.  "Beetlebum" wavers between claustrophobic simplicity and this huge sonic expansiveness.  You must have control, and if you've just learned the song, you can't really be clever within the bounds of the music without sacrificing some of that control.

About this point, Damon gave us meet and greet for the band.  He told us the names of the three back up singers, and I am lame and can only remember Beverly because she was the one I could see and the one singing Graham's parts.  Michael is their new keyboardist, I believe.  He's new to me, anyway, since I've only known of Diana and the other girl whose name I can't remember.  Damon cited Chris again, and then "Dave on drums."  Dave is Kurt's hero in Blur, so I will transcribe, ad verbatim, Kurt's thoughts on Dave for the evening:

           "Dave had on a cool green shirt with a werewolf/beast on it."
           "I yelled 'Go Dave Go'!" 
           'Dave was completely working it on 'This Is a Low.'  He is awesome."

I hope Dave heard us, because Dave needs love.  Damon turned to Simon last. "This is Simon Tong, our guitarist.  If you know the history of this band, you know that Simon re . . . Grez . . . well, he's here with us now."  Kurt and I winced.  Damon has the worst job in the world trying to explain that situation.   He's handling it as well as he can, but damn.  If you know the history of this band, that was one uncomfortable moment.  After attempting this explanation for Simon's presence, Damon added, "We're really striving right now to get everyone who¹s supposed to be on stage up here."  He apologized like this all night for Alex's absence. 

Right before Damon introduced the next song, a random fan demanded "This Is a Low."  Damon's index finger shot into the air and peace was immediately restored.  The power this man wields is quite amazing.  I figured he was going to end with it, anyway; Damon mumbled something along those lines, because he wanted to rip into "Gene by Gene."

"This song is heavily influenced by The Clash . . . and so, this is for Joe Strummer."  We cheered in appreciation, and off we went.   To me, this song sounds the most like Gorillaz, but it's fun and poppy and Damon makes cute faces during the chorus.  They followed up with "Caravan" and then "Good Song," which Kurt and I sang to ourselves as we took a mild break against the far wall.   We were not as close to the stage as we would have liked, but near enough to see what was going on and to feel the intimacy of the performance.  I'm also very short (5'1" in my shoes).  I needed some space away from jostling elbows and belt buckles in my face.  Kurt, thankfully, stands 6'1", and thus could take pics.  I had to take the camera away from him because he was going a little bonkers with it, but it's all good now.

Damon:  "We're going to take it down now, cos you know, we're jetlagged.  Well, we're not really jetlagged, but if you can take it down, you may as well do it, cos . .. you can."  A rhetorician of vast powers is Damon.

Damon called "On the Way to the Club"  "a song about poor excuses."  The NME and various other news media seem to think this is a new song not included on the album. 

After this fairly placid trio of songs, Damon figured it was nigh time to recapture his youth and do his old punk show for us, which I completely went nuts for as soon as he yelled, "This is called FUCK YOU!!!!" and Dave started to play the intro to "Song 2."  Needless to say, this is America, this is Texas, this is Big 12 NCAA Football country--everybody knows and loves the "woohoo song."  It's still a good song, and you can jump up and down to it like a monkey on crack, which Damon in fact did, attaining lift-off  as in the "Charmless Man" video.  Good memories, yep.  "Song 2" gave way to "We've Got a File on You," with Damon and Chris yelling at the top of their lungs.  Another missing Alex moment.  It's a short song.  Again, no warning, and we were pogoing madly to "Popscene," with Damon sawing at his guitar for the lead part  with all his musical might.  RAWR.  Impressive, very impressive.  Thus the set was ended, and we were all sweaty and high on the adrenaline slamming round in our happy brains.

The band left the stage.  Crew members came out and started fiddling with equipment and mics.  Kurt:  "They are so fucking around.  Encore's coming."  I realize now that Damon and Dave probably had to go backstage and breathe for a bit after about eight minutes of rushed, hard, loud, and excited exertion.  Men needed some water and time to towel off. 

They came back, as expected and cranked into "Crazy Beat."  Those of us who'd heard it sang the "yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah" part loudly.  Damon was having fun, holding the mic and doing his trademarked white boy dance.  He then proceeded to apologize once more for no Alex and the short setlist:  "I apologize for not having more songs, but Chris has only learned these in the past twelve hours.  Not to make excuses or anything, but I think we have a pretty valid one this time."  It's alright, Dames.  It's all good. 

Quietly, the absolute majesty of "This Is a Low" came over us with the first few notes of the guitar intro.  I'm getting chills again just thinking about it as I write this.  "And into the sea . . ." It was one of those musical moments where all things come into suspension and the only time is the key signature and the only point is to listen and shut up, all thoughts, all words, everything.   Your heart opens up and the hairs rise on the nape of your neck and that's it, you've found it, you're happy.  Simon supposedly had problems with this at the MTV2 performance in London on March 6th, but this night he pretty much nailed it, except for a little bit at the very end, where he missed his cue, but we were all so wrapped up in our own associations with this song and our reactions, physical, mental, emotional, to the perfections of the music that it was forgivable.  Damon sang as if it were the last time he would ever perform this song, which is not going to happen, because it's too much a part of that band.  It was breathtaking.  And that was the end.  Damon said, "Goodnight, we'll be back," and the lights came on.  Fin.

So, there are some pics here, but they completely suck compared to the New York show pics that are up on the net.   They're probably not worth showing, but here's the ³proof² that I was there:


Clickez ici to see a huge pic of the venue window.  I swear, it was next to homeless shelter.  Colbey posits that Dave and Damon stayed there, but I'm willing to bet they either stayed at the uppity Hilton downtown or the Driskell, which is even fancier, on Sixth and Brazos.


After The Rapture, the anointed one shall save us all.  Damon as Jesus.  Alternately entitled, "ALEX!!!!"


Really blurry and really far away, but Damon's ringing Alex for early morning salutations.


Again blurry and this is actually the best of the lot.  I think I'm just going to leave my camera home next time and let the professionals do their work.