Monday, April 16, 2012

Live Review: Graham Coxon, The Sage Gateshead, 15/04/2012

With huge outdoor shows and the Olympics closing ceremony beckoning, no one could begrudge Blur guitarist Graham Coxon a few months off ahead of what promises to be a monumental summer. Not one to rest on his laurels, the 43-year-old is instead spending spring embarking on the latest leg of his solo career, a comparatively low-key venture which has slowly gathered steam and thus far yielded eight studio albums. The latest of those, A+E, arrived earlier this month, stimulating a fresh wave of goodwill in Coxon's direction and arguably making this current tour his most keenly observed to date. Hall Two of The Sage proved a suitably intimate - if slightly formal - setting in which to unleash his signature lo-fi clutter, the strength of which was proven beyond doubt over the course of this 90 minute set.

Armed with a five-piece backing band (which occasionally included a trio of guitars on top of his own), it's fair to say that much of the emphasis in Coxon's live show is on adding muscle to the bare-bones aesthetic which characterises much of his material. The likes of 'Don't Let Your Man Know' and 'Standing On My Own Again' were hardly in need to a kick, but this sonic expansion nevertheless worked a treat with that pair and others transforming into searing cradles of punk energy. The effect was, however, more profound when he moved on to some of the moodier sections from the new record, which were incorporated mid-set after a hugely purposeful opening. 'The Truth's' bass heavy sludge was especially impressive, as was the Joy Division-esque dirge of 'City Hall,' with both benefiting no-end from the extra man-power which transformed them into colossally dense live highlights. Aside from those, many of this gig's best moments came in that full-throttle opening section, with the raucous late-set blast 'Freakin' Out' also excelling amid a slight lull in which he seemingly lost some of that initial focus.

Predictably, the majority of A+E found it's way onto the setlist, yet Coxon still managed to cram in all of the old favourites, ensuring that everyone - student-y types and middle-aged Blur veterans alike - went home happy. The mood of the man himself was somewhat harder to read, with good natured joking among bandmates and the audience being balanced out by a series of mishaps, during which he made little attempt to hide his frustrations. Once he did actually get around to performing, though, the conviction was there for all to see, and made for what was overall a rock solid showing. Most of this will probably be forgotten once 'Parklife' and 'Song' 2 are blasted out to tens of thousands come the summer, but while Blur's nostalgic return will no doubt hog the headlines, it's worth remembering that the man behind those riffs is arguably at the peak of his creative powers.

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