Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Good, The Bad and The Queen in San Francisco!

The Good, the Bad and the Queen

Grand Ballroom

San Francisco, CA

April 29, 2007

I was feeling a bit like death on Sunday, but I was also trapped in San Francisco with a ticket for the Good, the Bad and the Queen's show at the Grand Ballroom, so there I went, and healed I was by show's end. The show itself was a bizarre event – on one hand, San Francisco's concert-goers appear put together. They were safely donned in black and well-behaved. No irritating hipster types like we've got in L.A., nor was the show dominated by industry folk (again, like we've got in L.A.). Quite a nice change of pace, actually. Lots of older audience members who were presumably Clash fans the first time around, though I was standing rather close to the stage, alongside the other members of the under-25 crowd who were in awe to be in a room with the combination of musicians on stage.

On the other side of things, this nicely polished audience was massively accepting of art for art's sake, and rewarded opener Bonfire Madigan with magnificent applause. Personally, I was a bit torn on my opinion of her; her songs were adventurous and cello playing passionate – she even destroyed a string on her bow, mid-set – but her voice needed a (large) bit of fine-tuning and her growls got to be a bit much. I later learned that the mulleted Madigan Shive (Bonfire Madigan) spent the 1990s as one half of Tattle Tale alongside Jen Wood. At best, she's like a one-woman Rasputina with less humor and a greater appreciation for beauty, and at worst, she's a cellist whose voice will never help her rise above underdog status. But she smiled a wide beam and was impossible not to watch, and she danced with genuine purity and enthusiasm while second act, one-man band David Coulter, played a single song.

Coulter would re-appear for a strike of singing saw with the Good, the Bad and the Queen not too long after, the first point at which Damon Albarn would crack a smile – and who wouldn't? It's a fucking saw! Generally, though, Albarn remained the mysterious figure of the night, silent and business-like, standing still with cigarette in hand, eyes mostly closed, few words. He held a girl's hand for a moment, and then she held his hand and wouldn't let him go, but outside of this and a few quiet smiles, Albarn played his part and didn't fight to win us over. It didn't come off as arrogance, though, just a lack of entertaining things to say, and he was an elegant focal point nonetheless. Albarn and bassist Paul Simonon have both got sperm old enough to have prompted my birth once upon a time, but a good-looking man's a good-looking man, and into their respective 39th and 51st years, they're as handsome in person as they are in pictures.

Simonon served as Albarn's sidekick for the night, sticking to the front of the stage at all times as to either compete with or complement Albarn. He clearly loved putting on a show and generally performing, and had a way of aiming the head of his bass at the audience like a gun while he played, offering us an unwavering, ambiguously seductive or intimidating gaze. He perpetually kept his cigarette under the strings of his first fret and himself in constant motion, and that old ratty bass with “Paul” etched into it was a weapon no one else could have touched, let alone pulled off in a now-signature black suit. It seemed his constant movement and showiness were a method of compensating for such simple bass lines, really, and while the only complaint I hear of the Good, the Bad and the Queen is that Tony Allen's drumming is underused, I think that were Simonon not front and center on every stage and in every press photo, people would call him “underused” as well. (For the record, I disagree because The Good, the Bad and the Queen is a subtle record, and were Allen's soft rhythm more prominent, he'd disrupt the flow of an album that's not overdone in a single spot, so neither he nor Simonon is actually underused.)

Live, though, Allen was actually the most audible of the group's members and much louder than Albarn's voice, if anything. Allen's percussion led the flow of the performance and prevented it from being too mellow to watch; it wasn't until “Three Changes,” halfway through the set, that things loosened up and Albarn actually appeared to have a good time, and much of this renewed enthusiasm was in part to Allen's intensity and volume. Also of note were an appearance by this guy and the steady guitar of consistently mild and mellow Simon Tong, who was just right, like a good bowl of porridge. The group as a whole remained separate from the audience, even in the good time it seemed to be having, but the audience didn't seem to mind this lack of connection – we were mostly in awe of the group before us, that such an unbelievable combination spanning three different decades had come together and in such a shockingly small venue, just for us.

Bonfire Madigan - Lady Saves... (video)

Bonfire Madigan - Anthemic Amendments

(purchase ...From the Burnpile)

Bonfire Madigan - Scraps

(purchase Saddle the Bridge)

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - 80s Life (stream)

The Good, The Bad and The Queen - Three Changes (stream)

(purchase The Good, The Bad and The Queen)


E Troop said...

I have always felt that the Clash had been driven by Paul. His playing, deceptively simple, created the space needed to give the music it's heart.

A few months ago I wondered what the hell he was up to, and discovered TGBQ. When I found out they were playing in SF , I planned the trip up from LA.

This is something I rarely do. I have to say that It was a night that kept me believing in music. I felt lucky to be there.

Your review was spot on!!

China said...

Well, thanks for the nice words all around - it's exciting to see that someone else made the trek from LA just to stand in the same room as Paul! And I agree, he was just about the best part of the Clash.