There can be few ways to make Good Friday better than for a beatific Damon Albarn to grace us with his presence. So, as The Good, The Bad & The Queen return for what feels like something of a victory lap in honour of last year’s sophomore full-length Merrie Land, a jubilant atmosphere floods The London Palladium.
What with this particular show falling over the Easter weekend, the night is a more familial affair than it may have otherwise been, with the allure of Albarn, Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen apparently spanning generations in much the same way that their music does genres. And, from the cirque du solennité of the EUlogising Merrie Land right through to a gloriously tumultuous The Good, The Bad & The Queen, much soil musical is tilled tonight.
The philotherian, flourishing Gun to the Head has Albarn’s paw prints all over it; minutes later, Allen’s lopsided skiffle has shuffled to the fore on Nineteen Seventeen. The set, essentially, moves about with much the same exuberant abandon as those who instantly renounce seat numbers and, down carpeted aisles, surge toward the stage.
It’s something that Albarn is, as sort of goes without saying by this stage, in no way discouraging thereof: sombre though the likes of The Great Fire and Lady Boston may be – the latter wholly enhanced by Bethesda’s Côr y Penrhyn – there remains a bracing ebullience to his performance. In passing, he’ll commend Extinction Rebellion, commenting: “It’s very nice to replace the buses and commerce [of nearby Oxford Street] with people sitting on rugs,” but nicer still are those sublime closing moments of Merrie Land.
Ribbons – reminiscent of, yet superior to, much of Everyday Robots – is totally arresting, tear-inducing, and will undoubtedly become one of his most enduring endeavours; The Poison Tree is, similarly, exquisite. So much so, in fact, that – in keeping with his confirmation that playing the Palladium is “like a dream come true” – these songs assume an almost oneiric quality; too beautiful to be conceivable.
Structurally, however, there are issues with the set’s construction. That is to say that, in playing both Merrie Land and their eponymous début album front-to-back, the contrast in abiding quality between the two is made unmistakably stark. Their 2007 effort may be more sonically diverse but, once rearranged correctly, it’s more cohesive also. And, with the benefit of hindsight, it patently contains some of Albarn’s most striking work.
A lilting 80s Life glints in rays of Waterloo Sunset, Nature Springs has a sound wider than every one of Leicester Square’s umpteen screens combined, and A Soldier’s Tale gets those lacrimal glands going once again; every one a reminder of just how wonderful this particular record was and remains.
And there are then, of course, the singles: the symbiotic Kingdom of Doom sounds a bit like both The Clash and The Verve, and is made all the more riveting by the fact that this is in no way derivative; Herculean, meanwhile, hears the Côr y Penrhyn elevate the track like the heat beneath the taut ripstop of a hot air balloon. And, when Albarn will ad-lib: “It’s bigger than you/ It’s bigger than me,” he’ll consolidate his status as both a hero and a bonafide Godlike genius; no matter whether or not the New Musical Express will ever deign to corroborate such a claim.