Parents and guidance counselors lied. Smoking is cool, at least the way Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon do it. Then again, Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Simonon (the Clash) were pretty damned cool anyway as they, guitarist Winston Tong and drummer Tony Allen played the album they take their name from in its entirety. The show was one of five in North America, and while many musicians can say lovely things in tribute to New Orleans, the gig itself was a lovely gesture because the band could have easily filled much larger rooms in bigger cities.
Then again, there was a certain appropriateness. The album is a song cycle about London during wartime, but the darkness and uncertainly is resonant here. Live and augmented by a second keyboard player and string section, the band presented a contemporary, multicultural sound that neither foregrounded nor denied any of the musics that make up a city. Albarn’s very British melodies and Tong’s glam guitar were anchored by Simonon’s dubwise bass, with Simonon treating his instrument like a dance partner. Allen’s Afrobeat roots were less obvious, emerging most prominently on the skittering “Three Changes.” For an encore, the band returned not with a Clash or Blur song, but with something funky, digging into Allen’s musical background.
As melancholy and beautiful as the music was, it also felt like an event, a special, cool moment—and probably a good occasion for a smoke.