Live review: Graham Coxon, Hall 2, The Sage Gateshead

GRAHAM COXON ... enjoyed himself at The Sage, eventually.
GRAHAM COXON ... enjoyed himself at The Sage, eventually.

THIS was the second of 14 shows Blur guitarist Graham Coxon is playing to promote his latest solo album, A&E, but let’s hope he’s in a better mood for the 12 that follow.

For although his crowd was expectant, responsive and occasionally adoring, something seemed not quite right with the Camden guitar-slinger.

At one point, his five-piece backing band and the crowd fell silent as he cursed, put down his guitar and appeared on the verge of walking off, after messing up a song intro.

The fact that one wag in the crowd shouted ‘Taxi for Coxon’ probably didn’t help.

Neither did another’s demand for Parklife, which brought the withering retort ‘all the best comics are oop north, so they say’.

Thankfully, he sorted out whatever it was that was bothering him, knuckled down, and showed why he is regarded as one of the best guitarists of his generation.

Over the course of an hour-plus main set and lengthy encore, he played most of the new album, along with some gems from his back catalogue.

Ambling onstage in battered sweatshirt, jeans and Vans, with his unkempt mop of hair and geeky glasses, he looked for all the world like a mature student who’d just got out of bed.

When he strapped on a guitar though, you quickly realised why he’s so highly regarded by peers including Noel Gallagher - no mean player himself.

Kicking off with Advice, the opening track from A&E, he showed Damon Albarn wasn’t the only creative force in the group with which he’ll be forever associated.

All but a couple of tunes from the new krautrock-influenced album received an airing, and the standout, apart from the singles What’ll It Take and Ooh, Yeh Yeh, was City Hall, which sounds much better live.

Oldies I Don’t Wanna Go Out and Don’t Let Your Man Know sounded like Buzzcocks at their peak, and You Never Will Be allowed Coxon and his band the chance to indulge in some fine Led Zep-style riffing.

The earlier grumpiness had been forgotten long before the end, and he’d even apologised for the “mishaps and frowns” which had troubled him mid-set.

My favourite moments were saved for the encores: Seven Naked Valleys, which, for me, is the most Blur-like song on A&E, and his best-known song, Freakin’ Out.

The sight of Coxon on his knees, coaxing scarcely-believable sounds from his effects pedals, and doing a backward roll while playing guitar, will stay long in the memory.

I’d go so far as to say that by the end, he was even enjoying himself.