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Decades of Sound

Blur’s 10 Greatest Live Performances

From “Song 2” on Letterman to “Country House” on Top of the Pops
(Credit: (C) Kevin Westenberg)

In 1988, three students at London’s Goldsmiths College, singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, and bassist Alex James, formed a band with drummer Dave Rowntree. Initially performing as Seymour, the quartet adopted the Blur monier in early 1990 and spent the subsequent decade dominating the British charts and eventually breaking America. From the Madchester-influenced sound of its 1991 debut Leisure to its ascent as heroes of the Britpop era on 1994’s Parklife and a scrappy indie rock makeover on their self-titled 1997 album, Blur has always restlessly reinvented itself.

Blur has been on hiatus more often than not in the 21st century, with Albarn turning his focus to another chart-topping project, Gorillaz. The four original members of Blur have triumphantly come back together time and time again though (after Coxon briefly left the band), most recently for the recording of the band’s ninth album The Ballad of Darren, which will be released on July 21. With Blur’s classic sophomore album Modern Life Is Rubbish turning 30 this year, here’s a look back at 10 of the band’s most memorable performances on English, American, and even Italian television.

10. “There’s No Other Way” on Eggs ‘n’ Baker (1991)


Before their second single “There’s No Other Way” broke into the top 10 of the U.K. singles charts, Blur made its television debut on a Saturday morning in April 1991. Hosted by Bucks Fizz singer Cheryl Baker, Eggs ‘n’ Baker was a kid-friendly cooking show with musical guests. Blur mimed along with a studio track, in a performance marked by creative camera angles and Albarn’s short-lived long, floppy hairdo.

9. “Crazy Beat” on Supersonic (2003)


Graham Coxon left Blur during the recording of 2003’s Think Tank, and the remaining members toured without him. They played the album’s frenetic and aptly titled second single “Crazy Beat” on MTV Italy’s Supersonic with The Verve’s Simon Tong filling in on guitar. Blur would be inactive for the next few years, but Coxon permanently returned for a run of reunion shows in 2008.

8. “Tender” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (2015)


Blur returned to American television for the first time in 12 years to perform “Ong Ong” on The Tonight Show while promoting the comeback album The Magic Whip. A week later, The Tonight Show’s website shared a charmingly intimate performance captured backstage at NBC Studios, with host Jimmy Fallon singing along and playing guitar on Blur’s gospel-inflected 1999 single “Tender.”

7. “Charmless Man” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1996)


A year before Blur finally gained traction in America with “Song 2,” the band’s new label, Virgin, tried in earnest to break The Great Escape on U.S. radio with an aggressive promotional run. Although the album did not chart well in the States, however, Albarn seems determined to make an impression in the band’s Late Night appearance, leaping around and windmilling his arms in shades and a leather jacket.

6. “For Tomorrow” on MTV’s Most Wanted (1993)


Modern Life Is Rubbish is the only Blur album that missed the top 10 on the U.K. album charts, though it’s subsequently grown into a fan favorite. The band’s pivot from baggy dancefloor hits like “There’s No Other Way” to the wittier, Kinks-influenced Modern Life was an important step in the band’s evolution. You can see that shift take place, almost in real time, as the band left behind derivative dance beats and shoegaze guitar tones for their acoustic in-studio performance of the album’s lead single on MTV’s Most Wanted, the MTV Europe series broadcast out of London with host Ray Cokes.

5. “Coffee & TV” on TFI Friday (2015)


Graham Coxon released his debut solo album The Sky Is Too High in 1998, setting the stage for his most confident lead vocal for Blur a year later on 13’s second single. The guitarist keeps his head down and never seems to relish the spotlight when performing “Coffee & TV,” and if anything Albarn seems to get the greatest enjoyment out of playing second banana on the enduringly popular track, strumming acoustic guitar and singing backup on the choruses.

4. “This Is A Low” on The Late Show (1994)


When Parklife was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 1994, Blur performed the hit “Girls & Boys” for the televised ceremony. While onstage at BBC Television Centre, the band taped an additional performance later aired on The Late Show. Parklife‘s slow-burning penultimate track “This Is A Low” is Blur’s most beloved deep album cut, featured on the Blur: The Best Of compilation, and one of the most frequently performed songs in the band’s live repertoire.

3. “Country House” on Top Of The Pops (1995)


Blur’s briefly contentious rivalry with Oasis became a media event in August 1995 with the so-called ‘Battle of Britpop,’ as Blur’s “Country House” and the Gallagher brothers’ “Roll With It” were released the same day for an overhyped race to No. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart. When Blur was declared the winner, they took a victory lap with a cheeky appearance on Top of the Tops. The frontman of one of Britpop’s other top bands, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, introduced Blur’s “Country House” performance, with Alex James playing bass in an Oasis t-shirt.

2. “Song 2” on The Late Show with David Letterman (1997)

In the summer of 1997, “Song 2” wasn’t yet a staple of American pop culture. However, it was quickly becoming the band’s stateside calling card. The band would perform the rowdy two-minute anthem on CBS just a few weeks after it became a top 10 hit on alternative radio. By the end of the year, Blur became the band’s first gold album in the States. In later years Blur could seem almost embarrassed by the brash simplicity of “Song 2,” but in 1997 it was still a fresh new direction and Albarn still eagerly tore into the band’s now-signature “woohoo” refrain. Watch the performance here.

1. “Parklife” with Phil Daniels on Later… with Jools Holland (1994)


The title track to 1994’s Parklife is best remembered for its scene-stealing guest appearance by actor Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia, EastEnders), pontificating on his daily routine of having a cup of tea in the morning and feeding the pigeons. Since Daniels is not a full member of Blur, the band often plays “Parklife” with Albarn delivering the spoken verses himself. On a number of special occasions, however, including several festival sets and television appearances, Daniels has popped up to perform his famous cockney monologue. The definitive live “Parklife” performance took place on Jools Holland’s long-running BBC program shortly after the single’s release, with Albarn running around the stage, pulling off a comical pratfall behind Daniels, and joining hands with the actor for the final “they all go hand-in-hand” refrain.