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Five days after the breath-taking one-night performance of Sigur Rós, Big Sound Festival 2013 rounded the corner of the concert-packed season with a spectacular international line-up. The adrenaline-fuelled event, held on the evening of May 15th at Gelora Bung Karno’s open field, saw the likes of Australian electropop group Van She, Canadian identical twin duo Tegan and Sara, indie rocking Melbourne natives The Temper Trap, and the legendary Blur. I had been actively looking forward to catching the latter live, probably since being introduced to them through the music video of their 1996 hit, “Charmless Man” way back in junior high. Almost seventeen years after my first consciousness of the British band through mid-1990’s MTV, I would, for a couple hours, stand on the same soil as the musical giants of my formative years.
I attended Big Sound Festival with a group of people, so much of the days leading up to the event were filled with excited chatter: songs we hoped the artists would play live, what we would do in the event our favoured song is indeed played, how we plan on transporting ourselves to the venue, what time we would head out, and what we would wear… and that’s just the boys asking! On D-Day, however, a bunch of us left at least an hour past the agreed departure time. Word went around that the previous performances began earlier than scheduled, and the unbearable road traffic that occurred en route to the venue played with our levels of optimism in ever reaching there. We still managed to touch down in Gelora Bung Karno at a little past eight in the evening, leaving us with just enough time to make the five-minute journey to the stadium’s football-pitch-turned-festival-grounds.
Girls and Boys
After being subjected to the usual security process, we met up with a number of people who had arrived far ahead of us. After more or less managing to assemble ourselves and take a group photo, I proceeded to the stage located within the grassy area of the pitch with a couple of friends. A large crowd had already been formed in anticipation for Blur, who are scheduled to appear as the final act of the evening. One by one, we tried to maneuver ourselves through the throngs of people, an unusual occurrence, even in the most boisterous gigs of my personal concert-going experience. We managed to squeeze towards the middle-back portion on the left side, before being completely barricaded by an ocean of gangly arms and t-shirt-clad bodies. Without the aide of a camera, it would be incredibly hard to see any of the personalities on stage from our vantage point.
The Britpop superstars had their genesis as an art rock back named Seymour in the late 1980’s, fronted by the impishly good-looking Damon Albarn on keyboard and vocals. Alongside him is guitar mogul Graham Coxon, Alex James on bass, and political activist Dave Rowntree leading the band’s rhythm behind the drums. The next few years turned the group towards an alternative and pop-rock persuasion, the very sound they’re known for today. Blur was undoubtedly an icon for modern music, and the rivalry between them and fellow rockers Oasis was more or less a known reality. The two bands have since put their feud aside, even performing together last March for an event held to raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Having grown up with the band, the pleasant-faced Albarn was probably one of my first celebrity crushes of my adolescent years. The fact that he’s still got it at the age of 45 left me pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, he was a little too far away from the part of the stage I was standing in to get a full view of him. I was, however, in slightly better sight of Coxon, much to the happiness of the friend standing behind me. Coxon, whose guitar talent and overall musicality has earned him numerous praises throughout his career, is probably regarded as one of the finest guitarists of the last few decades.
Somewhat on schedule, Blur’s segment started a little past nine in the evening. The band entered quietly and quickly set up, while Albarn approached and refreshed the patiently waiting audience with open bottles of water. They kicked off the evening with their 1994 single, “Girls and Boys”, sending people into a jumping frenzy. The burst of energy did not last long, though. Those in attendance was notably more outgoing, sure, but Jakarta’s concerts are generally pretty relaxed. Artists who are more accustomed to a fully open display of affection in return may be confused by this. However, the passive nature of the crowds here is not something to be taken personally, seeing as it is believed here that the entertaining should be left to the performer.
In a fashion very characteristic with the digital age, the concert was heavily documented with the use of phones, iPads, and other equipment that managed to pass through the scrutiny of the checkpoint personnel at the entrance to the venue. Due to my disadvantaged location, I managed to inadvertently capture a lot of other screens in an attempt to photograph the band.
Out of Time
The first part of the set consisted of fifteen songs selected from their extensive discography of seven studio albums, twenty-nine singles, and twenty-six music videos, to name a few. An encore was guaranteed, because the hit song off their 1997 self-titled release had not yet been played, and what’s a Blur concert without “Song 2”? However, it seemed to take so long in coming, and the attempts at a unified “We want more!” from the crowd were waning. The total waiting time may have been about ten or fifteen minutes.
Then, it happened. Perhaps, we all knew it would.
Some years back, I made a bucket list of sorts, which included either learning the drum parts to “Song 2”, Blur’s famous musical parody of American grunge music, or to be present during a live rendition of it. Either way, when the initial percussion sequence commenced, followed by Coxon making himself known on the guitar, bucket list item or not, I knew I would be witnessing the latter. When Damon prompted the crowd with his trademark, “WOO HOO!”, there was jumping, singing, shouting, and an overall air of joy that emanated from the stage out to the series of refreshment stands outside the gates of the field. For all one knew, a mini-earthquake had been reported with a epicentre located in the Senayan area. It was wonderful. Less than three minutes later, almost as quickly as the show started, the band vacated their platform for good. People then herded out of the venue into the streets that were showing the early signs of the weekend, with more than twenty years worth of music and memories ringing clearly in their minds.
After this — pardon the contradiction — two-concert intermezzo, I shall pick up on posting about my four-day Hong Kong trip back in April, a month after the first-write up, and almost two months after it transpired. No worries, if you update as often I do, I’d almost forget it happened, too.