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The good the bad the queen 2018

The Good, The Bad and the Queen are making weird music for weird times

05 December 2018, 16:52 | Written by Sean Kerwick

On the morning of the Brexit result at Glastonbury 2016, a disheveled Damon Albarn seemed somewhat disjointed from his performance with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians. It was clear that he wanted to get something off his chest.

“Democracy has failed us because it was misinformed”, he roared, eventually. He took the dark cloud hanging over that day and dragged it into the “sky coloured oils” of The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s second LP, Merrie Land, arriving 11 years after its predecessor.

The world of Albarn’s Merrie Land is made tangible on stage tonight; a hand-painted backdrop of Blackpool pier (a nod to where the new album was recorded) is draped under dim lighting as a traditional organist performs seaside standards. The sense of occasion builds as the four-piece set foot on the stage with a string quartet. It’s not often that these musicians are together, let alone performing in such intimate settings.

The setlist is faithful to the album, which is played front to back. In the midst of the meandering, melancholic sway of “Merrie Land”, Albarn looms over the faces in the front row, waving his arms like a crazed conductor commanding the audience into a response of screams and cheers. This is quickly followed by “Gun To The Head” which contains the most singalong chorus of the evening and ends in a thrashing crescendo of strings, keys and guitar. “We’re The Good, The Bad and The Queen and we’re very pleased to be here,” the frontman announces, beaming with glee.

Later, Tony Allen steals the spotlight on “Nineteen Seventeen” with an erratic drum pattern which the wider band eventually lock into. These rough and ready moments make the set all that more endearing, because in ‘Merrie Land’, nothing works as it should. It represents the old, 'lost' and non-existent England which the back-peddling among us are trying to reach. The instrumentation, rhythms and sonics are bent slightly off-kilter to reflect these broken, divided times. This ramshackle atmosphere allows fragility to emerge aggrandised in softer cuts such as “Ribbons” and “Lady Boston”, and allows a punky sense of abandon to unravel on the raging “Last Man To Leave”, which finds Albarn stumbling across the stage and screaming into the crowd.

After a 10 minute interval, the four-piece reemerge to perform a few cuts off of their first record. They storm through “History Song” and “Kingdom of Doom” which causes a swell of excitement among the crowd, especially as the latter tails off with an outro referencing The Clash’s “London Calling”. Paul Simonon shines here as he did earlier in one of the set's highlights, “The Truce of Twilight”, which is underpinned by his cascading dub bassline accompanied by a Clash-like call and response chorus.

The world of The Good, The Bad & The Queen is an entirely enveloping one and is testament to Albarn’s unwavering imagination. Let’s face it, there aren’t many gigs where the audience is introduced to an accredited tin-whistle player, or where an entire song is performed entirely through a ventriloquist dummy as he does on “80s Life”. 'That was a peculiar moment', Albarn suggests as the dummy is packed away. There couldn’t be any better way to sum up the evening - and our times in general, for that matter.

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