April 13, 2013


Britpop Invasion: Blur & Stone Roses Flaunt Heritage at Coachella

Christopher Polk
Christopher Polk

You could almost smell the fish and chips: Blur and the Stone Roses, Britpop's art punks and their MDMA-dropping Northern forefathers, brought a back-to-back dose of Britpop nostalgia to Coachella's main stage Friday night. The accents were thick. The Ben Sherman shirts many. The humor ... different. The mentions of tea aplenty. A jolly time, init?

"For those of you who don't know who we are," Blur frontman Damon Albarn said a few songs into their set, "we're from England where the sky is gray. A lot of our songs have been informed by our bad weather ... it's very nice to enjoy your sunshine."

Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree played the best known hits from their wealth of material, including the dance-party opener "Girls & Boys," "Beetlebum," "Coffee & TV," "Song 2" and the oh-so-British football anthem "Parklife." 

On the latter, British actor Phil Daniels guested to sing-talk his cockney-thick verses steeped in Britishisms, like "brewers droop," "gut lord," "dustmen" and "trousers." The band had a grand ol' time onstage, too, which is notable considering their well-documented in-fighting (both in the '90s and now). James couldn't stop smiling the entire set, and the grouchy Coxon even laughed when Albarn led Daniels in a jog around the stage—the actor was so winded he couldn't bark his lyrics. 

"He's British too, in case you couldn't tell," Albarn cracked as Daniels—who brought the Ben Sherman count onstage to three—exited the stage after "Park Life."

Blur did "Out of Time," "Tender" and "The Universal" with accompaniment from a gospel choir and horn section, and Albarn said "This Is a Low" was yet another tune "about the British weather." He also dedicated "For Tomorrow" to the old school fans "who came to see us in '91, '92 and '93." You know, before most Coachella concertgoers were even born.

Though now a throwback act, Blur were Friday's rightful headliners, playing to a massive and thrilled crowd—the bouncing during "Song 2" was something to behold. But Coachella has a tendency to shrug off the lineup popularity contest and bill classic alternative acts as headliners, like Pavement who played to a tiny audience in 2011 as most watched Phoenix across the Polo Grounds. 

Jeff Kravitz
Jeff Kravitz

The Stone Roses' headlining gig was the same. The recently reunited Manchester band hasn't released an album in 18 years and formed before many concertgoers' parents even met, let alone procreated. And the pit at the Coachella stage was sparse with 30- and 40-somethings, but they were absolutely ecstatic. Frontman Ian Brown, guitarist John Squire, bassist Mani and drummer Reni (who wore a crown of roses) put the hits out front, opening with "I Wanna Be Adored," followed by "Sally Cinnamon," "Waterfall" and "Fools Gold."  

Mani switched his instrument on each song—one with polka dots (matching Squire's guitar), another with a psychedelic paint job and another with butterflies. The band looked nervous, especially the super-stiff Mani, but they sounded great, jamming out on "Waterfall" and "Fools Gold."

Their Britishness was even thicker than Blur's. When Ian Brown, who wrote the text book on Britpop 'tude (which Oasis' Gallagher Bros. studied closely), spoke to the sound guy, his Northern brogue was indecipherable. And atop Mani's bass amp was collection of cups and porcelin figurines of old powder wig-wearing English gents. 

Makes ya actually wonder why fish and chips aren't served at Coachella.