The Good, The Bad and The Queen, at the moment, are the most important band in the UK. That being said, here is a review of their concert.
First, the music. It’s fantastic. If you haven’t heard it, hear it. The group is a supergroup of trans-regional, trans-generational music icons including Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Blur and Gorillaz’s singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Simon Tong from The Verve, and influential Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. Albarn first conceptualized the project while working with Tony Allen on his Mali Music album, but it didn’t get off the ground until Albarn began writing about London again. In doing so, he created one of the most thought provoking and contemporary views of London since Blur’s Parklife album of 1996.
Put you at the scene. The band was on top form. The stage was eclectically decorated with Tibetan peace flags, Union Jacks, and a black and white painted mural backdrop, to be discussed in more detail later. Damon was on point with all the vocals, Paul was dancing all around the stage like it was 1978 again, Simon was subdued, and Tony was amazing to watch (at one point he was playing the crash cymbals by tapping lightly on them with the tip of his finger).
The audience for the show, like the members of the band, was eccentric to say the least. Many forty-something Clash fans milled about the dirty floor of the 9:30 Club with Blur and Gorillaz fans as well as general hipsters. Sadly, no Verve fans seemed to come through, although I guess most Blur fans would be Verve fans as well. The band came on stage to the sounds of the string quartet who played with them, Paul Simonon in his now-signature fedora, Tony Allen in a leather fedora, and Damon with a beaming smile on his face put on a Victorian top hat for the duration of the show. For being near forty, Damon may have a more adult roundness than his malnourished frame at the height of the Blur years, but he has remained charmingly handsome. After opening with “History Song” and “80’s Life,” Damon’s first words to the crowd were, “We are a collection of individuals, and we are here in Washington tonight to tell a story. This is the part when the whale swims up the Thames,” then launching into “Northern Whale.” They played the entire album in the same order as the album itself, something Damon also did on tour with Gorillaz, encored with unreleased track “Doghouse,” and were joined by Eslam Jarwaad, a Syrian rapper, on their final number, “Mr. Whippy.”
It is true, The Good, The Bad and The Queen are here to tell a story, the modern history and state of London and England. They use carefully crafted lyrics, mood and tone to deliver a dark message about the current state of affairs.
The imagery of The Good, The Bad, and The Queen is incredible and goes along with their overall theme. Their album cover shows a painting of the 1623 London fire with the Tower of London in the foreground as buildings burn in the background. At the show, a chalked canvas displayed a typical London flat and an iron rail bridge in the foreground. The middle-ground has a row of flats and clouds, and above the clouds in the background is a lone skyscraper. It is done all in one shade of dark brown or black on white cloth. Its theme is the conglomeration and commoditization of English history. We look back and through the steel, the flats, the industrial cities, and it all leads to this blank, lifeless skyscraper. London in particular, but the UK as a whol,e has sold itself and its identity to the highest bidder. The honest people have lost faith in their political leaders, and the term “British” itself has an ambiguous meaning. As an effect, the music has become stagnant, with US pop and hip-hop dominating, and a handful of British bands that have rejected the takeover by singing about nights out on the town. This is not to say that music should be inherently political, or that bands like the Arctic Monkeys are not doing their jobs as leaders of the pack. One band is not superior to another because one is more overtly political in their songwriting. But when Damon does it, he’s usually spot on, and GBQ is no exception. Three generations of English rockers (the punk movement, Britpop, and post-Britpop) and a genre defining drummer team up on this project to paint an eloquent picture of English life as they see it today. There is gloom and at times despair, but there is also a lot of love, both romantic as well as for one’s country and for the people in it.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen are the most important band in England right now because their music reflects their attitude towards the way they see their England being taken in the wrong direction by those at the wheel. The members that make up the band are here to tell you a story, a story of a city rich in history and cultural identity, but a city that has fallen on hard times, a people who move too fast, think too quickly, and fail to appreciate everything around them.