Allegedly, Blur was a horrendous live act during their formative years (with a few historical lows to their credit), but that changed after they got their act together on Modern Life Is Rubbish, and indeed, also Live at the Budokan proves them to be a strong live act, one that tears through its back-catalogue with energy and creativity. On Budokan the band wisely focuses on their three previous studio albums, of which nearly all of the highlights are included. With nine songs, the recently released The Great Escape (these performances were recorded in November of 1995) is most adequately represented, but the band didn't use the less successful song off of the other ones either. Thankfully, they only include one song from the mediocre debut album, "She's So High," which is - surprise! - certainly not among the highlights here. Quite remarkable, and by consequence making this release essential for new fans, is the inclusion of the single-only "Popscene," still one of the band's better songs. Finally there's also "Supa Shoppa," the B-side for the "Parklife"-single, and understandably so. The one thing that immediately gets noticed is the fact that most of the songs are much louder and rawer than their album counterparts. However, that doesn't make them less interesting since the studio flourishes may have embellished the songs, but rarely made them better.
The introductory trio of songs immediately announces the crowd is not in for an evening of easy listening. The brass-band-goes-punk of "The Great Escape," the hard-hitting "Jubilee" and the boisterous "Popscene" turn quirky pop songs into raving rockers that prove the band - especially Coxon - could kick out the jams if it wanted. From there on, it's an alternation of the expected/enthusiastically received pop singles ("End of a Century," "Girls & Boys," "Country House"), dirty played rock (a superb "Advert," an ultra-short "Bank Holiday", "Coping") and stuff you wouldn't really expect to work in a live context, such as "To the End," "This Is a Low" and "The Universal." Fortunately, they're all good, especially "To the End" that doesn't even suffer from Laetitia Sadler's absence. In fact, there are only a few songs that are a bit disappointing. Apart from a dragging "She's So High," "For Tomorrow" sounds merely decent, suffering from a sub-par contribution from Albarn, while "Mr. Robinson's Quango" sounds as directionless as its album counterpart. But, like I said, the highlights are definitely in the majority: apart from the ones I mentioned, there's still the delicious near-cacophony at the end of "Country House" (and those falsetto vocals, is that Albarn or a Japanese fan?), the tracksuit kitsch of "Girls & Boys" and an affecting version of "Yuko and Hiro." During the entire gig, the band's in complete control. Rowntree is an excellent metronome, bass player Alex James squeezes some damn catchy bass-lines out of his instrument, while Coxon alternates conventional rhythm playing with sharp slashes of noise and an inspired use of feedback and distortion. Not a breathtaking document nor the trip through kitsch one might have expected, Live at the Budokan confirms the previous albums weren't flukes. The Japanese girls must have realized this, as they seem to scream their tiny lungs out. One last remark: extra kudos go to funny man Coxon for wearing a Lenny Klavitz t-shirt.