TVD Live Shots: Graham Coxon at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 9/23

Graham Coxon, Blur’s guitarist, stopped by the Rock and Roll Hotel on Sunday, halfway through his first ever North American tour as a solo artist. It was a little surreal to see one of the greatest guitarists of all time playing in a place so small, but it was probably better that way for both the audience and for Coxon. The audience, because you were essentially hanging out in a space the size of a living room with a legend, and for Coxon, a smaller room means a small audience staring at you.

Notoriously shy and introverted, Coxon is the quintessential guitarist in a band who prefers to let someone else be in front, the kind who is only truly comfortable when he’s playing guitar. And he makes it so endearing, and well…real. As a solo artist though, that makes things a little difficult, which he admitted. “You lock yourself away with bloody guitars or painting and you get good at it. And maybe you’re not sociable to begin with. And then you’re expected to go out and talk to people,” he quipped. He also admitted he couldn’t talk and tune at the same time, which led to a fair amount of silence between songs. But it was kind of charming to see, like watching a mad scientist so focused on his work…

Coxon wrote a few songs for Blur but his solo work began when a neighbor asked him to write songs for a movie that was never made. Eight solo records later, his latest output is the soundtrack from the Netflix series, The End Of The F***ing World. A majority of this tour’s setlist pulls from that (“There’s Something in the Way that You Cry” and “Roaming Star” are heart stoppingly beautiful live), and per audience request, Coxon did a little of TEoTFW’s “Bus Stop” (“It’s better with drums. My friends are too expensive now (to tour with a band),” he joked.

Quite a few of the 26 songs played throughout the evening pulled from six of his solo records, and the song “Falling” was an amazing highlight. This 2017 track was released as a single with proceeds going to benefit Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a U.K. charity dedicated to preventing male suicide which is the single biggest killer of U.K. men under the age of 45. Though it was written by Coxon’s friend Luke Daniel, a songwriter who did take his own life, the lyrics have that dark insight and longing that Coxon could always capture so well, and paired with his vocals, this already delicate song is made even more sadly beautiful. The audience seriously held its collective breath when he was singing.

Of course, Coxon had to add in some of his Blur tracks in the two+ hour show (“Miss America” and “You’re So Great” to which the audience sang along). He also added some really interesting covers: “Way Up High,” a folkie-blues song by Ram Jam Holder who was in the British television series Desmonds, “Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith, a rather unique choice but one that perfectly fit Coxon’s vocal range, and for the first time on the tour, the sprightly “Ain’t No Pleasing You” by Chas & Dave. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here playing this weird music,” said Coxon about Chas Hodges, who passed away from cancer on Saturday.

One thing the audience wasn’t expecting in the Graham Coxon set was acrobatics, but have it we did. Toward the end of the main set, Coxon had stood up while playing slide guitar on “Brave the Storm,” but when he went to sit back down on his swivel stool, it well, swiveled, and Coxon stumbled backwards. Thankfully, singer and guitar were unhurt, and his drink of Red Bull/apple juice remained intact. Later he joked, “Thank you for coming to see me, it’s been full of thrills and spills. I haven’t fallen off a stool like that for a long time. The Red Bull…made me jump up so fast!” Guess the Red Bull advertising about how it gives you wings is true.

If anyone actually needed proof of Coxon’s guitar playing ability, the last song of the encore was all they would ever need. “Sorrow’s Army,” from 2009’s The Spinning Top, was a primer on the reason Coxon is always in all the “Top Guitarists of All Time” lists. He began on acoustic, creating a bunch of loops (“Can you tell I’m using a looper?” he asked, “Terrifying instrument really…”). After a bit, Coxon then picked up his electric guitar, the first time all night, and began to play all this fuzz into the mix, using the acoustic loops as rhythm. He then switched back to the acoustic just before the final stanza. It was flawless and with all the mixing about, you’d think it would sound strange or awkward—not so.

I know as a reviewer I should find something to slag about for a live show, and I know I’m probably gushing…but this was one of the better shows I’ve seen in some time. You know how sometimes during shows your mind starts to well…wander? For two+ hours, that was not the case because frankly, Graham Coxon sitting on a swivel stool with a couple of guitars was wonderfully entertaining. Gra, please don’t wait another 15 years to come back to DC. Sociability may be hard enough for you, but that’s just fine, we like you just the way you are.

For more photos, head here.

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