Here comes the Chop-Up
There’s an unspoken rule about reviewing live shows which I’m going to break in the very first line: you never talk about the audience. You’re there to review what’s happening on the stage and not in the stalls. Unless the …
There’s an unspoken rule about reviewing live shows which I’m going to break in the very first line: you never talk about the audience. You’re there to review what’s happening on the stage and not in the stalls. Unless the audience decide to pelt the act with cushions (see Aida at the O2 in 2009) or boo like crazy (Cat Stevens in the same venue also in 2009), you ignore them. Yet it’s well worth noting that a full Vicar Street turned out last night to see, enjoy, appreciate and rave about a show where they probably hadn’t heard most of the material ever before. Hell, up to a week or two ago, the musicians onstage for the Honest Jon’s Chop-Up hadn’t even played together before. Yet it all came together superbly. It wasn’t flawless but the best things in life aren’t perfect.
Most were here because of the man who sat to the left of the stage for the show with a big grin on his gob for the duration. To use that hoary reality TV show trope, Damon Albarn has had one hell of a journey. I remember seeing him on the Rollercoaster tour nearly 20 years ago when Blur were touring with My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and The Jesus & Mary Chain and stuck out like a sore thumb. That was followed by the Britpop years and the post-Britpop years, when Blur became more interesting than everyone else. Take in the Gorillaz adventure which has taken Albarn to some weird places and the other solo projects and star turns like The Good, The Bad & The Queen and add in an engaging curiosity about music and his fellow musicians which has taken him from Mali to the Congo and you’ve got one of the modern music’s most fascinating characters. Noel Gallagher may give good interviews and Liam Gallagher may flog expensive parkas, but I think I prefer the idea of Albarn throwing musicians with very disparate styles and sounds together in the manner of last night’s dazzling Honest Jon’s Chop-Up.
Albarn, though, will point out that he’s just one of 16 musicians who come on and offstage all gig long, yet none would be there if it were not for his involvement in the Honest Jon’s set-up. Do you really think that a bona-fide rock superstar like Flea would find himself jamming on an uptown Dublin stage with the Shangaan Electro gang and house producer Theo Parrish were it not for Albarn?
When I interviewed him last week ahead of this show, he talked about how compatibility is what attracts him to potential collaborators: “will they all be able to listen to each other and play with each other? Will they be able to crossfertilise ideas? We always want to select open-minded, talented musicians, but they need to be able to co-operate as well.” For Albarn, collaboration has become key over the years. “I suppose I’ve mellowed into it. I’ve matured into having an appreciation for and an ear for all voices. That for me is necessary, because I like to learn. It’s like going back to school every time I meet a new musician.”
I don’t know about you but I don’t remember school being this much fun. From top to toe, this was a show which glowed and glittered. There was an exuberence to the playing and performance throughout, which was all the more remarkable given how this was very much on the hoof for just four shows. From the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (the hardest working men on the night, given that they were onstage for nearly the entire show) and their dad Phil Cohran to Afrobeat grandmaster Tony Allen providing the beating heart of the operation from the back and Malian vocalist Fatoumata Diawara adding the sweetness, here were musicians just buzzing off the art of the possible, something Albarn seems to have dedicated his recent musical adventures to pursing. That it’s lead to everything from Gorillaz to DRC Music is proof that if you follow your imagination, it will lead you to some strange, magical places. And the best news is that there’s probably a whole lot more to come.