Monday, October 23, 2006

The Good, The Bad and the Queen at the Cavern Club, Exeter

A couple of days have passed since me and Vic travelled along to Exeter to watch Damon Albarn's new band, The Good, The Bad and the Queen (comprising himself, the incredible Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, Simon Tong and The Clash's legendary Paul Simonen), and I'm still feeling elated, to be honest. The gig - ostensibly a warm up for the band's 'official' live debut at the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday - completely exceeded my expectations. The songs, only one of which I'd heard before, were low-key and dark, dominated by awesome, delicate arrangements (guitars, hammonds, saxes dropping in and dropping out) rathepr than big choruses, but everything was so thrillingly vibrant and full of feeling. Damon was predictably into it, cheerful and proud, and Paul was literally throbbing with a mixture of malice and cool; he is an enormous presence on stage. Tony Allen's drumming, meanwhile, was far from showy but rather jaw-droppingly precise, understated, serene, but always imaginative.

In terms of sounds the songs reminded me of a dubby take on the wistful, yearning stuff on Blur's '13', but where much of that record was a mess of pro-tools trickery, everything in the set feels as if it is in its proper place, nothing unnecessary or uneven. Without knowing the songs well it's hard to tell whether the project is destined to replicate the global appeal of Gorillaz as well as well as garner hyperbolic reviews (like this one), but a few times in the set Damon's phrasing, way with a lyric or ear for melody lifts the tunes well beyond anything his contemporaries are capable of. In 'Green Fields', meanwhile, Damon has written a song which - for the first time in a few years - is as catchy as Parklife-era Blur. What's perhaps most pleasing about the set is the fact that Albarn, who has increasing used his voice as an instrument in recent years, is singing clearly and soulfully again.

Can't remember many more specifics, as by thirty seconds in, pretty much, I was quite unable to hold on to my objectivity or presence of mind. There can't have been more than 100 people in the venue, and everyone seemed to feel the same, inhabited and overwhelmed by the songs.

It was, of course, amazing to grab a moment with Damon afterwards, especially as the room was pulled inward by his short walk from the stage door to the exit. Paul Simonen made a point of making himself available too, sat contentedly in the middle of a group of fans, all of whom appeared to want little more than to sit around him, as if they were children sat round for Jackanory. Shaking hands with him was obviously an immense pleasure. Added to that, Tony Allen was incredibly friendly and conscientous, chatting away with fans and doling out autographs. He signed my ticket and didn't know how to spell my name, but went to pains to get it right - a small gesture much appreciated.

Predictable of me to say so, I know - not much impartiality when it comes to Damon Albarn - but this new project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, is quite deliriously good. My friends will soon be very, very, very bored of me talking about it, and of my showing them the photos below, taken by Vic - as good a gig companion and chronicler of my hero-worship as can be found...

me and damon

me and tony allen


Blogger Del said...

Great stuff. Really looking forward to the album. 'Herculean' is every bit as enjoyable as a sequel to 'This Is A Low' could ever hope to be.

I had a chance to see them at The Roundhouse, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I couldn't. I don't want to talk about it.

10:54 pm  

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