The Good, The Bad & The Queen - EartH Hackney [Live Review] 'A Sublime Sign of the times'

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The Good, The Bad & The Queen
EartH [04/12/18]

The Good, The Bad & The Queen, led by the poetic musings of Damon Albarn transform EartH Hackney into Merrie Land for three nights. Here’s our verdict of the triumphant opening show.

★★★★★

Never before has a band managed to reflect and intertwine itself so well with the present social and political landscape than Damon Albarn’s supergroup ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’. After releasing their new, Brexit inspired record ‘Merrie Land’ on the week the Government finally managed to craft a proposal. They’ve now somehow managed to align their performance in London on the day, parliament itself combusts into anarchy, rebellion and chaos. I’m starting to think there is a cosmic link between the two.

Meanwhile, whilst the capital bickered outside. Tucked away deep inside a hidden enclave in Hackney, Damon Albarn took all our fear and worries away as he transported us to ‘Merrie Land’. From the moment you stepped into EartH Hackney, you were immersed inside the aesthetic of the record.  Each small detail was made to help enhance the sensory aspect of the evening. Starting with the venue, which is both modern and yet deeply nostalgic with its wooden steps and gallery, like a Shakespearean playhouse. An apt comparison considering the almost poetic prose Albarn preached into the crowd. The stage is transformed into a retro seaside pier with a sepia coloured backdrop, light amount of smoke, fairy lights which hang overhead and spotlights positioned like streetlights. All of this creates a sense of atmosphere and immersion rarely seen at a live show. It has to be said even the support act, Pier organist Trevor Ravens brings the seaside to the city with his delightful opening set.

Onto the main event and the night is separated in two segments, The first focusing on their new album ‘Merrie Land’, the evening opens with a highly emphatic rendition of its title track. From the very start, Albarn is highly animated, leaping across the stage and shaking hands with the audience like a carnival master greeting patrons into the circus that is Brexit. At points he stares to the sky, reaching out wistfully as if he's truly trapped in the conflict he’s singing about. This marks the beginning of a high paced journey through the entirety of the new record. The opening tracks are breathless, most notably a raucous and highly passionate rendition of ‘Gun To The Head’ in which each word is roared back to Albarn by the crowd. This high energy continues through the beautiful yearnings of ‘Nineteen Seventeen’, which feels like a symphony inside the enclosed auditorium.

Albarn throughout the night is backed by his bandmates, all renowned musicians in their own right (the Clash bassist Paul Simonon, the Verve’s Simon Tong, and legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen), each member feels integral to the evenings performance, the chemistry between each member is electric. I’ve witnessed both Blur and Gorillaz live before but with all honesty, The Good, The Bad & The Queen is a different beast entirely, they perform with a level of craftsmanship and skill in their live shows which could only come from such experienced musicians, its truly a sight to behold. 

Despite an unfortunate absence from the Welsh choir which has joined them throughout the tour, the crowd did an excellent job of filling in the final refrain of album highlight ‘Lady Boston’, meanwhile the inclusion of a Penny Whistle player during ‘Drifters & Trawlers’ graced us with the peculiar yet extraordinary sight of a crowd euphorically dancing away to the archaic instrument.

In sharp juxtaposition to the high energy opening, the first segment unwinds towards its conclusion with an acoustic and intimate rendition of the stunning ballad ‘Ribbons’, Albarn's high energy transforming him from riotous circus master to a captivating court performer whilst losing none of the passion from his performance. Both ‘Last Man To Leave’ and ‘The Poison Tree’ continue this wonderful and restrained reenactment of one of the finest records of the year.

A short interval ensued, and as the band burst into their earlier material, it became clear how much of an ingenious idea to separate the two segments it was. ;Merrie Land’, in its earlier uninterrupted form, felt like a true performance. The audience was able to be immersed into the bands' vision and due to excellent craftsmanship, each tracked flowed gracefully into one and another. 

The second segment undertook a more thrilling and organic approach, one moment we’re treated to an eerie yet hilarious rendition of ’80’s Life’ from Tommy, the onstage ventriloquist dummy operated by Albarn, with a full-on Wolverhamptonian accent. Then all of a sudden the next moment, the groups earlier, much more rock influenced songs had Hackney storming to its feet with foot-stomping renditions of ‘Kingdom Of Doom’ and the chaotic, wonderful closing moments of ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ as Albarn frantically stabbed at each piano key, the tempo increasing with each jab and the lights rapidly flashing in unison. 

Its chaotic climax, and the concert as a whole felt like a true reflection of the crazy world we find ourselves living in. The group's absolute commitment to their vision and aesthetic meant for those ninety minutes I didn’t feel as if I was in London, I was in the magical and wacky world of Merrie Land and, to be honest, I never wanted to leave.

Setlist:
Merrie Land
A Gun To The Head
Nineteen Seventeen
The Great Fire
Lady Boston
Drifters And Trawlers
The Truce Of Twilight
Ribbons
The Last Man To Leave
The Poison Tree
- Interval -
History Song
80’s Life
Nature Springs
Kingdom Of Doom
Three Changes
The Good, The Bad And The Queen