Listen to The Good, The Band & The Queen on Rhapsody

Words by: Martin Halo

The Good, The Bad & The Queen :: 03.12.07 :: Webster Hall :: New York, NY

Albarn & Simonon
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
When the ancient vegetation of the English countryside rustles ominously with the haunting whisper of musical legend, an intoxicating shiver exerts a power so overwhelming that it jolts the spine and consciousness of the faithless, shaking them to their very knees. From these rural cottages and overpopulated cities came Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. Another influential musical entity also hails from this point of origin, British supergroup The Yardbirds, who spawned Led Zeppelin, Cream, and the Jeff Beck of 1968’s incendiary Truth. With the modern fusion of artistic juggernauts Damon Albarn (Blur/Gorillaz), Simon Tong (Verve), Tony Allen (Africa 70/Fela Kuti), and Paul Simonon (The Clash), this folkloric line has been continued. Audiences stand motionless in transcendent hypnosis at the sight of Her Majesty’s new symphony – The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

In New York City for their American debut, the band performed a quick acoustic set at the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan before fully displaying their British charm and gallantry after the sun dropped behind the tall buildings. Tucked inconspicuously off 4th Avenue, the Webster Hall marquee illuminated the dark street scene below. The small hall was stuffed to capacity with the eyes in the balcony spilling over with anticipation.

Tony Allen
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Just after 10 p.m. the house lights dimmed. Onstage, the lit end of a cigarette floated by as the lights rose to reveal the chilling face of Paul Simonon. Damon Albarn then greeted his congregation with the tip of a top hat and sat at a piano with a British flag draped over it, string players assembled at his back, for opener, “History Song.” Simonon wore his bass high, pointing it at the crowd like a weapon of soul carving salvation. With his smoke approaching the filter, he flung it down with stiff swagger. The vibe of the performance was a mixture of English properness and African rhythm, grooving with a brilliant charm.

In a phone interview from his home in London, Albarn graciously explained the recording process for this group’s debut. “The whole project seemed to happen by accident,” says Albarn with a deep English accent. “Tony Allen, Simon Tong and I spent quite a long time working together in Lagos, Nigeria at Aphrodisia Studios in 2004. Tony and I knew each other for quite a long time before that. We got on really well after I mentioned him in a Blur song [with the memorable shout-out, ‘Tony Allen got me dancing’]. It was kind of a strange way to get to know someone.”

Tong & Albarn :: The Good, The Bad & The Queen
“When we first started working on tracks in London the sessions were very experimental and very sparse,” Albarn continues. “When we took it to Nigeria it took on an almost classic Afrobeat style. The studio was in this old building in downtown Lagos with the walls impregnated with weed. The air conditioning kept giving out and there we were, Tony, me and about 22 Nigerians making music.”

“Lagos has a great humor and lust for life, which can be quite frightening at times. The people are strong, hospitable, loud, and in-your-face. Imagine if Queens [in New York] was really hot and dirty. The music was good but I felt like it kind of lost its charm when we were there. When we got back to London we all decided to start again. There was something in the music that was quite ghostly and haunting. I think it casts a realistic shadow with the soul of the subject being England. I’m a bit older now and I had this feeling of having something different to say. It was an opportunity for me to kind of reassert my Englishness a bit,” he explains.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Webster Hall pulsated with pure astonishment. Albarn gracefully moved back and forth between the center microphone and his piano. During “Kingdom of Doom,” he sang, “Drink all day because the country is at war,” a conscious social statement for a generation caught in the upheaval of religious unrest.

The rhythm section laid down a groove that made the balcony bounce. Simonon hunched over Albarn’s piano to take a few quick drags from another cigarette as “80’s Song” echoed to the rafters. With a quick keyboard kiss, Albarn stepped back out front with a humble grin. The audience was his for the taking as Albarn showcased every track off their self-titled debut.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen
The album was produced by Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, a major influence during the London sessions. Simonon explains, “Damon, Tony, Simon, and Danger Mouse were all working on the project when I got the call. It was really just a day-to-day thing for me at that time. Danger Mouse was fantastic because he was this pair of fresh ears that oversaw the sessions and could see things a lot better than the people actually playing the music.”

On Albarn, Simonon comments, “I was at the Gorillaz first show in London. I knew about Damon and really liked his music. I had a lot of respect for his outlook on life and his political outlook. We shared this common interest and really got on very well.”

After about an hour the band retreated backstage before returning for a one-song encore. Their music savors the good while standing in the face of the bad with charming perseverance, all the while remaining humble to Her Majesty The Queen.

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