Date: 10th November
Venue: The Coronet, London
The art of a supergoup is not easily mastered. Throughout the history of popular music there have been multiple attempts by musical artist at forming a group out of artists popular for their work with other bands. Some attempts have been better than others. For every Traveling Wilburys and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, there is a Chickenfoot or Atoms for Peace. While the line up for many of these acts look stellar on paper it is rare for them to produce something that can stand up to the music of the members’ former bands. Much of the time there are too many main songwriters and creative minds, which can overload the project where the main artistic focus is lost.
The Good, The Bad, and The Queen differs from your run of the mill supergroup. While TGTBTQ does included members of Blur, Gorillaz, The Clash, and The Verve it is very much the brainchild of musical genius (a term rightfully deserved) Damon Albarn. In this case, Albuan, who founded Brit Pop legends Blur and the multi-genre virtual band Gorillaz, facilitates his unique brand of music in TGTBTQ by rounding up musicans who are the best at what they go. To create something, truly unique he brought together the king of punk rock dubby bass, Paul Simonon of the Clash, legendary African drummer Tony Allen, and silent wizard of effects Simon Tong of the Verve. When TGTBTQ formed in 2005 with Albarn as their ring leader, they created more than songs on an album, they created a portrait of modern day British life.
Since The Good, The Bad, and The Queen finished touring their debut album in early 2008 they haven’t toured or played a show. They all went their separate ways. There was hope when Paul Simonon appeared on the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach and joined the touring group on the its world tour. Yet, TGTBTQ gave no indication that there was a future for the group. That is until last October when they announced a one off show in celebration of forty years of Greenpeace. No one knew what this meant for TGTBTQ: a new album, more shows, a tour? This speculation of the bands future was the talk of everyone waiting in line for their London show at the Coronet Theater. No one knew why the show was taking place and what it meant, but we were all very glad that it was happening.
Thoughts of the meaning of this show for the band clouded the minds of the audience until Don Letts came out on stage for an opening DJ set. At the sight of Letts I thought to myself, ‘ok cool, Don Letts, punk rock documentarian, founding member of Big Audio Dynamite, friends with The Clash and member of the London music scene for nearly forty years. This should be pretty good, right?’ Wrong. For the next hour and fifteen minutes Letts led the crowd with mystic Reggae, covers of popular songs, all of which seemed to use the same dub beat with a random popular vocal track on them. To be fair the dub version of Marvin Gaye’s “what’s going on” was pretty good, but the dub version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and the dub “Eleanor Rigby” was downright sinful. No only was the selection of songs terrible, but he seemed ill-prepared and indecisive. He essentially winged the entire set, which caused his transitions between songs to be played out and sloppy. He basically played the song to its bitter end and then slowly cross fade to the next song. It was choppy and unprofessional.
Thankfully Letts left the stage and was replaced by an orchestral trio playing arrangements similar to the intro to Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach. TGTBTQ then causally walked on stage. Grins glaring at the crowd, they took to their instruments. Albarn greeted the crowd saying, “We are gathered here tonight to celebrate forty years of Greenpeace.” With that introduction they jumped into the first song of the night “History Song.” It became increasingly evident that this was the group’s first show in three years. There were mistakes, missed intros, Albarn’s vocals didn’t always hit the right note and his volume and tone were just a bit off. Instead of the soft meticulous whisper singer on the album, Albarn was coarse and harsh as he belted through the set. It was sloppy, but that is what I expected and it is what the band expected as well. What was interesting was how the band coped with the sloppiness. They addressed the issue by jokingly saying “we haven’t played together since we last played together… we only got together a week ago to relearn these songs” They knew it was messy, but that didn’t stop them from having fun and putting on a great show. What at first seemed undercooked and sloppy turned into a raw live musical experience. Gone was the highly organized set of the Gorillaz world tour with each moment planned and scheduled. What was left in its place was Albarn and his mates jamming together, having a good time. By the time they played “Kingdom of Doom” us in the audience realized what we were witnessing, a personal bond between friends through music. They weren’t up there to please us, only to please their friends on stage. Us in the audience were only privileged enough to witness this intimate event. As TGTBTQ played straight through their album, they increasingly grew relaxed and became more and more joking. By the end of “Bunting Song” Albarn was playfully banging on his piano and jumping around like a madman, all the while Paul Simonon pulled hard shapes, maneuvering his bass with the coolness of a gunslinger.
The relaxedness of the night allowed for much more experimentation within the songs. New intros, effects, guitar parts, and song structures were sprinkled through the set. Not only were the songs given new life, but also the performers played them with a freshness that wasn’t a part of their shows three years ago. They way the album runs raises concerns over how it would play live. The amount of detail and the feeling that it expellees seems like it would be a difficult album to play live, yet with these new arrangements the songs came alive like a Frankenstein Monster. It allowed for each member to showcase their talents in new and exciting ways. “Nature Springs” and “Bunting Song” showcased some of Tony Allen’s best drumming. His sparse, yet forceful style kept the atmosphere in tact, while allowing for it to be driven into new areas. Yet, the single most impressive performance of the night was given by a side musician that emerged from the sides of the stage for “A Soldier’s Tale” with a bow and a saw. He then proceeded to bow the saw while bending the top to produce a short of whistling sound. It was the most interesting and impressive thing I have seen in a long time. It was so good that Albarn asked him during the song to play his line a second time.
TGTBTQ moved through their album until they came to their climatic album closure and the namesake of the band and album “The Good, The Bad, and The Queen.” In my opinion it is one of the best album closures in recent history and it proved to be just as good of a performance closure. The song starts out slow with the pitter-patter of acoustic keys and moves faster and faster like a stream train moving up to full speed, becoming more and more chaotic. With every note the piano moves from taping to a hard banging, guitars move with more and more distortion, the bass digging in ever so harshly and the drums banging with more and more intensity and fury. Then Albarn moves from behind the piano to center stage jumping like crazy with his feet reaching the level of his head. Paul Simonon creeping over to Simon Ton bouncing every which way sharing in on the collective frenzy. This madness all comes to a sudden stop and the band waves to the crowd and leaves the stage.
At this point we knew there was going to be an encore, we knew it, they knew it, it was coming. But the problem was that they had just played all of their songs. There was nothing left. They had just played their entire one album from start to finish. So, as they took to the stage for a second time, we were all wondering the same thing, are we going to hear a new song from TGTBTQ, would this mean that there is a new album for this group? Albarn teased this even more with his intro of “here’s a song we wrote, but never finished.” Sitting with his acoustic guitar in hand he started a less electric version of “On Melancholy Hill.” Slightly disappointed, but highly content nevertheless we all swayed to the perfect decent from their climatic main set finish. They then transitioned in the b-side to Herculean, “Mr. Whippy” as Don Letts came on stage one last time to toast over the track. The band finished, walked off stage with huge grins after a collective bow, leaving the rest of us wondering the same thing we were before they started: what is the future of this group?