Why We Travel To See Our Favourite Bands

Travel To See Your Favourite Bands: As a kid growing up outside of a major city, Erin MacLeod's the goal was always to wait until one’s
Pulp photo by Erin MacLeod

Bands don’t always include Canada in their touring plans. However, having the opportunity to see a band in their hometown is a special experience. Erin MacLeod found out that sometimes, as Blur once put it, there’s no other way.

As a kid growing up outside of a major city, my goal was always to wait until my favourite band played near my home in Oshawa, Ontario and lament when tours did not include Toronto, the closest major city. Yes, there were bands that one might follow (I’m looking at you, Phish, and, of course, Grateful Dead), but the others were all ones that you would hope might add a date close by enough that it would be accessible by public transit. This of course continues – Taylor Swift’s juggernaut Eras tour has yet to make it to Canada, even though a slate of new dates were announced in June (Europe and the UK), much to the chagrin of the Canuck Swiftie contingent.

All this means that when two lovely friends called last year and said to me, “hey, would you want to see Pulp in Sheffield?”, my immediate thought was wait – is this a thing I can actually do? For family reasons I find myself in the UK for a bit every summer, so this meant I could attend a Pulp concert in their hometown rather than waiting for them to come to mine? Then Blur announced two shows at Wembley around the same time – so London band in London and Sheffield band in Sheffield. Yes, I’d do it.

We all met up in London and the pre-Blur giddiness was extreme. Not only were we going to see Blur at Wembley, but Paul Weller and the Selecter were opening. This lineup is something my 15-year-old self would have died for. The forecast was cloudy, but as we made our way to the stadium, the sun came out so brightly that I used my umbrella for shade. Our tickets were right facing the stage so we could sit and/or stand, and that giddiness was clearly not just us. The whole place was beyond enthusiastic.

The choice of opening acts was inspired and inspiring: Selecter warmed the crowd up, even when the sun went behind the clouds, with living legend Pauline Black shouting out the NHS and making a song like “Three Minute Hero” sound as relevant to today’s cost of living crisis as it did in 1980. To see Paul Weller was an added bonus and “That’s Entertainment” is another 1980 classic that hasn’t aged at all.

With all this talk of eras (I’m looking at you Tay), I had forgotten just how deep a band’s catalogue could be. Blur kicked off the proceedings with a new song from their upcoming ninth album The Ballad of Darren called “St Charles Square”. It’s jangly and boisterous, fitting right in next to a classic single from their very first album: “There’s No Other Way”. The show ran the gamut through all the songs any self-respecting Blur fan would want to hear, from the stunning, sparkling version of “Tender” (alongside the London Community Gospel Choir) to the sport-stadium worthy “Song 2”.

Any idea that this is a reunion show for Gen X or that Blur is just some Britpop throwback is laughable in the face of songs like “Coffee & TV”, a ditty that showcases the band’s ability to blend sharp lyrics with a memorable hook and and an excellent, rough-around-the edges guitar solo wedged in between. When Albarn sang “we can start over again”, I wasn’t alone in wanting to do so. Sitting at the piano to sing “Under the Westway”, he burst into tears at its completion, and was buoyed by rapturous applause.

An epic 26-song marathon performance of every song I wanted to hear (Phil Daniels showed up to perform “Parklife”!), and so much camaraderie in the crowd. We sang to each other – the folks near us doling out high-fives and expressing our shared euphoria at seeing a band really at their best. And there were some younger fans there – I found myself waiting for the bathroom behind two teenage girls arguing over what Blur album is the best introduction to the band. Ahh, to be young and have access to all nine of their records at the same time.

The spectacularly gorgeous closer, “The Universal”, transformed the 90,000-strong crowd into a glorious choir of thousands singing the plaintive chorus “It really, really, really could happen”. I mean, we were all believers before we entered the stadium, but this final stunner, complete with sparkling lights and soaring crescendos, upped the ante. This wasn’t a reunion show, it was a reminder that Blur are at the top of their game, and the sterling reviews of The Ballad of Darren, released this past weekend, are not surprising.

Everyone walked out of the stadium singing, and it continued all the way to the tube. This ranked as one of my favourite concert going experiences – and Pulp was still to come. After making our way to rainy Sheffield the next weekend, our first stop was at the Rutland Arms for chip butty (extra butter, please and thanks) and chat with folks who had been following Pulp on their tour. We were told we were in for a treat.

As a Canadian, I cannot deny that the concert being held at a hockey arena was particularly exciting. Hometown hero Richard Hawley was on first – which made the experience significantly Sheffield-y. He kicked off the proceedings with the soundtrack-worthy “Tonight the Streets are Ours”, which was absolutely perfect. It was truly an inspired opening set.

Before the headliners showed up, “this is a night you will remember for the rest of your lives” was projected on the enormous velvet curtain hiding the stage. This was a homecoming more than a decade after the band ended their last tour in Sheffield. The first song was “I Spy”, and it showcased the stage, a pyramid of bright, primary-coloured lit stairs and screen full of carefully curated visuals. We got a full string section as well as everything one would ever want from the man whose initials, he of course reminded us, are the same as Jesus Christ.

Travel To See Your Favourite Bands: As a kid growing up outside of a major city, Erin MacLeod's the goal was always to wait until one’s

Blur photo by Erin MacLeod

The show exploded, literally, at the beginning of the second song – “Disco 2000” with a clap along followed by a blast of streamers in the air as the beat dropped. Every time Cocker sang the chorus, “Let’s all meet up in the year 2000,” I can’t deny being shocked at that being nearly a quarter century ago, but I was also shocked at how he was able to make me believe that this does not matter, especially when Pulp was doling out heaps and heaps of songs that sound as exciting today as they did back then. Moving from “Mis-Shapes” to “Something Changed”, Cocker paused to speak of the song’s lyrics about the random nature of life, and dedicate the song to bassist Steve Mackey, who sadly died at 56 in March of this year.

Cocker’s performance style is a combination of triumphant and insistent – theatrical and enthusiastic, at one point introducing himself: “My name’s Jarvis and I was born to perform”. An incredibly earnest statement, totally reinforcing how I’ve always been deeply impressed by him, since I was a teenager listening to His ‘n’ Hers back in 1994. Growing up in Canada, everything about England to me was always based on an imaginary London, shaped by history books, the Queen and my grandmother’s copies of Hello magazine. Pulp’s music made me realise that there were other places in a country that, as Canadians, we are always told we should want to visit. There is something quite special about someone from a steel town (much like my hometown of Oshawa – a place with an industrial history and a thankfully improving present) sporting a velvet suit and demonstrating that important and fundamentally fun music can come from places like where I’m from.

Moving through favourites from the wondrously sardonic rock song about rave “Sorted for E’s & Wizz” (complete with techno-appropriate lighting) and the rousing crescendo of “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”, climaxing with an adequately dramatic performance of “This is Hardcore” to the one-two-punch of “Do You Remember the First Time?” and “Babies”. Cocker had the whole arena singing at the top of our lungs.

Cocker made the crowd beg for “Common People”, and I was sure that this full-arena singalong was going to be the showstopper, but after introducing the band, a whole other encore was served up. I have nostalgia for the time I first heard all of these songs, but Pulp appeared to understand this, providing a cavalcade of images throughout the show and especially during “Glory Days” – which again seemed like it would be the last, until Cocker asked if we wanted to hear “one more”. The last song then was a debut of a little ditty called “Hymn of the North”. It was a lovely, clever ballad urging someone (and perhaps the band itself) to not “fоrgеt yоur nоrthеrn blооd” and “plеаsе stаy in tоuсh with mе, in this соntасtlеss sосiеty, anywhеrе thаt yоu mаy bе”. As a closer, it certainly left an impression – drawing everyone together and earnestly reminding us just how great live music can be.

Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to go all the way to England to see Blur and Pulp. I’d do it again, even though when I sing “Parklife” and “Common People” as loud as I can, it’s so very obviously in the wrong accent. And yes, Mr. Cocker, I will indeed remember those nights for the rest of my life.

Blur is touring Europe right now and then South America and Pulp is completing their UK dates this week, making their way to Central and South America this fall. No Canadian dates have been announced, but I can dream, no?

Words by Erin MacLeod


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