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Blur return to reclaim 'Britpop' crown

  • Story Highlights
  • Iconic 'Britpop' band Blur play comeback gig in London after six-year hiatus
  • Guitarist Graham Coxon returns to band after he was axed
  • Gig is most anticipated comeback of year along with The Specials' reunion
By Peter Wilkinson
CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- After a six-year hiatus in which many bands have emerged, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs, copying their blend of melodic, intelligent songs and cheeky blokeishness, Blur return to show them who is best.

Graham Coxon is back in the Blur lineup for the first time since being acrimoniously axed by his bandmates in 2003.

Blur frontman Damon Albarn still exudes the matey bonhomie that made him one of the best-known British pop stars of the 90s.

Much has changed since the mid-1990s when the Essex boys fought Oasis in the hyped Battle of Britpop.

Singer Damon Albarn has pursued successful side projects such as Gorillaz and the Chinese opera Monkey, guitarist Graham Coxon went solo after being axed acrimoniously during the troubled recording of the "Think Tank" album, bassist Alex James makes cheese on his farm while drummer Dave Rowntree plans to stand for the UK parliament at the next election.

Happily for fans, the band's two dominant personalities in Albarn and Coxon are now reconciled and, in the year's most anticipated reunion along with The Specials' comeback gigs, Blur on Thursday played the first of two outdoor concerts in London's Hyde Park.

Before a massive crowd and a setting sun, Blur kick off with their first single, a feedback-drenched "She's So High" before going straight into "Girls and Boys," the disco-inspired anthem to hedonism that propelled them into the big time in 1994.

Albarn exudes matey bonhomie, asking, "Was that adequate?" The crowd roars its reply in the affirmative.

The good-natured banter continues throughout the concert; he pays tribute to Hyde Park's "lakes, Speaker's Corner ... other stuff" and more thoughtfully, reminds the crowd that a million people marched there in 2003 in an unsuccessfully effort to prevent the Iraq war.

Coxon seems happy just to be back in the band, doing the job he does best. There is a poignant moment when he takes the lead vocals in "Coffee and TV" while Albarn watches his songwriting partner admiringly.

And as with all the greatest concerts, the hits the crowd has paid to hear keep coming: "There's No Other Way," a raucous and bouncy "Country House" and "Parklife" on which actor Phil Daniels takes the jokey vocals.

The audience responds to all the songs perfectly, even forcing the band into an extended singalong version of "Tender." The only disappointment on that song is that the gospel backing singers are drowned out in the mix.

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As the light fades, a superb light show suits the mood of the songs perfectly. And despite this being a huge concert, there is room for more subtle songs like "Out of Time," a nostalgic "End of the Century" and "This is a Low."

Blur finish with "For Tomorrow" and "The Universal," ending what, for this reporter, will be remembered as one of the most amazing concerts. What Blur fans hope for now is some new material to match the classics they are evidently so proud of.

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