Blur gives UAE F1 fans a happy send-off

Former Britpop stalwarts bring Abu Dhabi F1 entertainment season to close with a rousing performance at du Arena.

Damon Albarn of Blur performs on the last night of the Yas F1 entertainment evenings at du Arena. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend closed triumphantly on Sunday night with a performance from reformed Britpop icons Blur.

Playing live for the first time in more than a month, there was no sign of rust as the band kicked off with the slow, stomping opener Go Out, taken from this year's The Magic Whip — but sounding far rawer and rockier in this live environment.

Making their UAE debut, singer Damon Albarn trounced around the Du Arena stage in a black leather jacket, while Graham Coxon slashed sound collages chords from his guitar.

“It’s a shame Lewis (Hamilton) didn’t win,” Albarn told the crowd wryly. “But he is the champion.”

Anyone thirsty for vintage material was quickly quenched with the follow-up There's No Other Way, the band's first-ever UK hit, from 1991.

While many established bands lose members or rely on rafts of backing musicians in the wings, it was refreshing to see Blur begin the night with the same four men who formed the band in London nearly three decades ago.

Backed by keys and four backing singers, bassist Alex James stood cooly stage right, while drummer Dave Rowntree kept the beat.

After going on to find fame and notoriety at the forefront of the UK’s mid-1990s “Britpop” movement, Blur disintegrated in 2003, only to reform for a first round of reunion gigs in 2009.

This year the band released their first new album for 12 years, the critically acclaimed The Magic Whip. The album's biting opening track, Lonesome Street, sounded biting performed here in the capital.

The album’s biting opening track, Lonesome Street, offered a convincing case for Blur’s vitality, when performed here for the tired post-race crowd.

Anyone who doubted the continued relevance of this influential act should have been easily silenced on the basis of this performance alone.

Excited residents and visitors had queued outside du Arena for hours to enter the grounds ahead of the concert.

One such fan was Rupert Connor, a Briton who lives in Dubai. Dressed in a blue T-shirt with the band’s name on it, Mr Connor said he was excited to see his favourite band.

“I grew up in the ’90s and listened to Blur as a teenager. In 1994-97, they were the biggest band for me, and I have been following them ever since,” he said.

Mr Connor watched Blur perform in Hyde Park six years ago and this was the second time he got to see them perform live.

“I have their latest album playing in my car and it would be good if they played some songs from it,” he said.

Mouzna Moosa, from Oman, came to Abu Dhabi for the event.

“It’s very exciting to see a British band performance. My sister booked the tickets for me as a gift. Damon Albarn is my favourite. I’m really excited to be here,” she said.

The Muscat resident had attended the concerts through the weekend and said “the organisation could be better”.

“The first two days we just went from gate to gate. There’s a lot of traffic and it’s difficult to find a taxi and find someone who gives you the right directions,” Ms Moosa said.

While humming one of the band’s songs, Lisa Corbett, from Britain, remembered the peak of her fanhood, in the ’90s.

“The last time I watched Blur perform was approximately 15 years ago and it’s nostalgic to watch them perform today. They were very popular in the ’90s in the UK and I used to listen to them a lot,” Ms Corbett said.

Many concertgoers were stuck in a traffic jam for hours on Sunday evening while heading to the festivities and again leaving the race.

Karl Gheewala, an Indian, was stuck in the traffic after the race ended.

“The organisation is OK, but the traffic is not. I have been stuck in traffic for an hour. We got on a shuttle bus that was supposed to take us to the parking, but we have been stuck here,” the Dubai resident said.

Earlier in the evening upcoming UK singer-songwriter Barns Courtney served up a spirited solo acoustic set, closing with Fire, his breakout hit from recent Bradley Cooper movie Burnt.