Graham Coxon - Manchester Ritz - 28.3.06

More often than not music forces you to take sides, to pit one against another in the battle of the fittest. Just look at the Carl and Pete scenario in the post Libertines fall out. It would be easy to make a divide, and hence a choice, with Albarn and Coxon following their musical differences when Coxon quit Blur. While musical pigeon Albarn has cast his net further afield with world music albums, his Gorillaz side project that turned into a bigger beast than his day job and his various releases on the Honest Jon label, Coxon on the other hand has refined his taste's drawing upon his childhood influences that to the untrained eye would number the Buzzocks highly, but to those who know him better it would be bands such as The Saint.

Although he's never been a cover star in his own right and is unlikely to be in the near future Coxon truly is one of our most interesting and eccentric musicians of the past decade. The musical director between many of Albarn's concepts he was able to shift from baggy grooves to old Britannia and the scuzzy rock of "Beatlebum" and "Song 2". His own solo output started as lo-fi country offerings before his last two albums on Parlaphone have been fuzzy punk rock with melodies sweet enough to break into the Top 20 time and time again with each successive single. The fact that he's introverted to a fault, more nervous than Jarvis Cocker but at the same time incredibly charming and passionate album music, almost the anti-rock star who would now rather try and force extremely English words into songs than take another drink.

What's interesting about tonight's show is that while most of the audience have by default grown up with Blur's back catalogue there's never once a shout for his previous bands material. Nor are there Blur T-shirts in any great number. Perhaps it indicative of the strength of his own solo material that there's no looking back and why should he when he can write songs such as "Spectacular", "Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery" and "Freakin Out". Roughed up around the edges on the live shows the songs possess a real punk spirit which if played by the likes of Green Day or Stiff Little Fingers would have a moshing frenzy down the front, but the indie boys are alas too polite and pogo politely every so often. While the singles are a timely reminder of just how many hits Coxon has had, it's the newer material from "Love Travels At Illegal Speeds" that truly stands out. "I Can't Look At Your Skin" and "I Don't Wanna Go Out" are blues fuelled punk songs with the devil knocking at his door. On the other side there's "What's He Got?", probably the purest pop song played tonight.

Shuffling off stage at the end of tonight's performance Coxon cuts a slight figure. Fragile and childlike with the guitar and mic stand shielding him from the rest of the world. It's a refreshing chance to see someone who doesn't crave the spotlight and literally lets the music do the talking. And if we're honest we'd much rather have one Graham Coxon for a thousand Kaiser Chiefs.

Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

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