A stage bedecked with washed-out bunting is the mournful setting for Damon Albarn's outfit to play their first gig in three years, a reunion to celebrate Greenpeace's 40th anniversary.
In 2007, The Good, the Bad & the Queen was revealed as a concept album for a band with no name, even if the title was soon applied to its core four-piece. These tales of a future London sapped by war and environmental catastrophe won accolades, though the project enjoyed a short shelf life, sandwiched between Gorillaz's success and Albarn's Chinese opera, Monkey. The Blur frontman was just getting started – recently, tickets for his Dr Dee opera went on sale, he has released the collaborative set DRC Music: Kinshasa One Two with African musicians and unveiled yet another supergroup, Rocketjuice and the Moon, with Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.
You wonder if that new group would be playing tonight, fresh from their UK debut, were Flea's main band not touring, especially after an undercooked start by the Goodies. Veteran Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen provides tentative rhythms, while ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong is a shadowy presence. Former Clash member Paul Simonon's dub bass is as reliably punchy as ever, but Albarn fails to take the reins. He lauds Greenpeace's latest ship, Rainbow Warrior III, as it prepares to "sail round the world and confront..." He tails off, not wanting to assume authority.
Still, playing the album in order shows off some of Albarn's best writing in the past decade. The rolling gait of "80s Life" hints at an updated Hogarthian nightmare highlighted by the olde worlde backdrop behind the stage. On "Kingdom of Doom", the lines "Drink all day 'cos the country's at war" suggest civil strife rather than conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as Tong's urgent white noise comes to the fore. The band, though, rarely gel until they tear through a ferocious "Three Changes", all skittering rhythms, punk energy and a pogoing Albarn.
This adds extra charge to the weary anthem "Green Fields", aided by a weeping string section, before Albarn pulls out a rabbit for the encore. It is a delicate take on "On Melancholy Hill", from the last Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach. He explains the number began in sessions with this coterie and for once joins the dots between his many musical ventures.Reuse content