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Primavera Madrid Day 1: Weather disasters and Blur's redemption

Damon Albarn performing at La Riviera
Damon Albarn performing at La Riviera Copyright Sharon Lopez
Copyright Sharon Lopez
By Jonny Walfisz
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Festival cancellations, nearly missed trains, and perhaps the best Blur gig to take place in two decades. Here's our take on the first day of Primavera Madrid.

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Primavera Sound’s first foray into its Madrid setting went off to a bad start. Unlike the previous weekend’s flagship festival in Barcelona which ran without a hitch, heavy rains in Madrid led organisers to cancel the first night.

In a message sent out to attendees on Wednesday night, Primavera announced that the opening night’s main events couldn’t run due to the danger presented by adverse weather conditions. 

Headliners Blur, Halsey, New Order alongside a host of other exciting acts wouldn’t make it to the stage for Thursday’s planned performances.

The notice explained that any attendees with day tickets to the Thursday would be able to attend either the Friday or Saturday event in lieu of their expected experience. No mention was made of whether weekend ticket holders would be reimbursed.

Naturally this was a disappointment to many fans who had travelled to Madrid specifically to see a line-up that included the return of Blur, one of the defining bands of the 90s Britpop scene, who have come out of hiatus this year for their ninth album ‘The Ballad of Darren’.

On the bright side, despite the first night of the festival being rained off, the setting in one of Spain’s most exciting cities meant there was still fun to be had. My plan for the first day of the festival was to travel to Madrid by train from Barcelona.

Train ticket disaster

As they say, when it rains it pours. A second disaster struck on the way to Madrid. This time of my own creation. Like many journalists, I love to edge up right next to a deadline. My approach to travel is distinctly similar, always trying to be the last one on a train before it departs, saving essential minutes in an overly stressed life. It can’t only be me, surely?

Arriving at Barcelona Sants Station, I confidently had my ticket in hand ready to board the train five minutes before departure. As the attendant scanned my ticket though, a terrible noise rang out. The digital blip that told the attendant I had the wrong ticket sounded more like a foghorn announcing my ineptitude as I stood sweatily on the Barcelona platform.

Thankfully, I’d booked the train ticket through Omio, a travel booking app that combines air and train travel, as well as accommodation. It had stored my tickets in the app and as I checked to explain to the kindly attendant that, in fact, I did have the right ticket, I saw it. I’d booked two days in advance. On the Omio app, I furiously tapped my way through to find a new ticket for the train departing in less than two minutes.

With just a few clicks, I had the new ticket. The attendant smiled. “It’s your lucky day,” she said as I jumped onto the train seconds before it departed. On the app, I was luckily able to cancel the useless ticket I’d booked for the Saturday and off I was on my Madrid adventure.

Jonathan Walfisz
Enjoying the view on the way to MadridJonathan Walfisz

Good news, I like to think, is like buses. You wait forever and then you get a double helping. Minutes into the train ride to Madrid, a notification came through from Primavera. They’d managed to organise Blur to play a set at the concert hall La Riviera later that night. Tickets would become available to disappointed Primavera goers in an hour’s time. The only catch was, La Riviera is a concert hall with a capacity of around 2,500 people. Attendance numbers for Primavera Madrid haven’t been announced but last year’s Barcelona event saw more than 500,000 people come. The odds weren’t in my favour.

The 4pm window arrived to enter the lottery for Blur tickets. I opened the AccessTicket app on the second the hour turned and once again in an hour I was poking intently at my phone screen. The loading spiral spun as my heart twisted in my chest for what felt like an age. Finally, thanks to the 5G on Spain’s excellent train network, I was through. I was going to the ball! All that was left was to sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful sights of northern Spain hurtle past my train window.

A legendary set

It’s not long after arriving in Madrid that it’s time to head to La Riviera. The crowd starts filtering and slowly an atmosphere develops. There’s a mix of annoyance and giddy disbelief. No one had planned to be here a day ago, but no one can quite believe what we’re here to see. In a month’s time, Blur will play to a sold-out audience at Wembley Stadium. They headline festivals and sell out arenas. Seeing a band as big as them on such an intimate stage is a rare opportunity.

Jonathan Walfisz
Me, ahead of Blur coming on stageJonathan Walfisz

As the clock ticks towards their set, it’s clear that the weight of an entire festival day now rests on one gig. 

When Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree finally take to the stage, all the tension of the day dissipates into a Ginsbergian howl. It feels like it’s their Beatles moment, barely able to thrash their instruments loud enough to play above the screams of adoration.

In the intimate setting of La Riviera, Blur comes alive entirely anew. Second song of the night ‘There’s No Other Way’ sees Albarn stalking around the stage like an attention-seeking toddler, blasting out lyrics via a megaphone. James is in shorts and smoking a cigarette. Coxon abuses his guitar into new shapes to recreate their classic sound, while Rowntree – the most visibly aged – barely breaks a sweat in his metronymic precision.

Sharon Lopez
Blur at La RivieraSharon Lopez

Among the dancing, surging and singing, ‘Beetlebum’ is performed with such vital energy, it feels like a brand new song again. As they dart between new songs and old favourites, the audience laps it up, begging for more. It’s an incredible reminder of just why the world fell in love with Blur in the first place. With just four guys and a handful of instruments, they recreate their astounding catalogue of songs with pinpoint accuracy.

By the time the set is nearing its close, it’s clear there are no casual fans or first-time listeners to bangers like ‘Song 2’ and ‘Girls & Boys’. Most touching is a performance of ‘Tender’ that has the audience so wrapped up in repeating the final refrain, the band has to stop playing the next song in the set.

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Seeing Blur up close like this puts a band who have existed on a stratospheric level for decades back into perspective. At one point, Albarn candidly removes his dentures, preferring to perform as his more naked self. At another, he asks how anyone could question climate change in reference to the festival’s first night cancellation. 

Time clearly has moved on since the days when Blur would be playing short dingy sets in The Scala at King’s Cross, but tonight’s crowd doesn’t feel that. Good gigs transcend time. Great ones transform it. At La Riviera for one night only, Blur resurrected the 90s and quite possibly upstaged the rest of the entire festival.

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