God Save The Good, The Bad, and The Queen

Oh my goodness. I think on the boat ride over here from England, Paul Simonon dunked his head into the Atlantic, ripped up the trans-atlantic cable with his teeth, and then used it to string his bass guitar. The man was slinging some deep bass at the 930 Club earlier tonight. Simonon’s monster bass chords were one of the many thirlls delivered by The Good, The Bad, and The Queen.

What could have easily been written off as a vanity project of Blur’s Damon Albarn, GBQ have been proving naysayer’s wrong since their debut album hit U.S. shores a few months back. Tonight’s performance was one of a limited U.S. tour that displayed such musical exellence and natural joy for music that if there are any doubters left in DC they must be of the most gnarled and cynical sort.

Tonight’s concert was incredible.

The 930 Club stage was dressed up with two long streamers featuring mini-flags of all nations, a giant back-drop of a London Bridge scene, and a Union Jack draped poetically over Albarn’s stand-up piano. A top-hatted string quartet warmed up on stage as a trilby doffed Paul Simonon took up his long-necked bass. Albarn soon followed donning a top-hat of his own. Followed by Tony Allen looking cool and tough behind the drum-kit and a sober looking guitar guru Simon Tong.

When the band launched into their set, I thought they sounded a little loose and Albarn seemed a tad subdued. Which got me wondering if maybe there was something to the vanity project label that had been tossed about. By song two those thoughts were wonderfully dismissed, the band tightened up considerably and launched into one of the coolest sets I’ve seen in a long time.

I say cool because, well, there is no other word to describe it. Everyone in that band is so fucking cool. Individually they are masters at their instruments; Allen – Drums, Tong – Guitar, Simonon – Bass, Albarn – Voice. Collectively they present a musical confidence that lends to their dripping with cool.

Case in point – Albarn is hammering away on the piano playing wonderfully off of Allen’s cymbals while Paul Simonon casually leans on Albarn’s piano watching with a calm expression on his face that says, ‘I could do better than that’ whilst his cigarette burns away tucked into the fret-neck of his bass that hangs untouched at his waist as if placed there by a photographer’s assistant. A picture perfect spontaneous moment of utter coolness.

Albarn is one of the great front men of our time. Every time I see him he reminds me of that. Over the course of the set, the guy came to life, leading the crowd along with him on his musical journey by dancing and posing and singing his gloomy London narrative to perfection.

Tong and Allen were like statues. Monuments to their respective instruments playing them effortlessly while displaying a dizzying range of technical proficiency. I haven’t seen Tong play guitar since the early 90’s and I forgot how damn good he is. What really surprised me about these two guys was the level of drama they wrenched out of their gear. I had read a review from the GBQ show in New York that said Allen was a boring drummer! That is insane. Allen is the definition of restraint and dramatic effect. The mofo is complex. His well-placed shot to a snare reports like a rifle. Both Tong and Allen’s intricacies were well-served by the 930 Club’s system.

And then there was Paul Simonon on bass. His lines were right up front in the mix and heavy. It was friggin’ beautiful. Simonon live is like watching Fred Astaire. He dances around the stage sometimes holding his bass like a dance partner other times a gun, but always an extension of his long-limbed, lanky body. Donned in a tilted, trilby hat and smart black suit, he looked like he walked right out of a Clash PR photo that I have framed in my staircase. The guy is cool personified. The audience played off of Paul as much as they did Albarn. It was like having two-front men for the price of one.

Even with the best intentions, musically all of these strong personalities on one stage could have worked against each other. Minus the benefit of the studio and mutli-takes, GBQ could have been a disaster live. But it most certainly wasn’t. These guys played together like old buddies jamming on a lark after drinking a case of Red Stripes at a reunion. The beginning was a little rusty, but by the third song they were on fire, and they kept the fire going long into the night. And hopefully for a couple more albums!

Go to NPR’s Concert Series for an archived listen to tonight’s concert.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jenn L (unregistered) on March 15th, 2007 @ 8:35 am

    Great review, Darpino!

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