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Monumental Johnny Borrell Concert at Small Bar; Nice Open Mic at Vieux Léon

March 28, 2013

borrellWhen I first heard that Johnny Borrell, the lead singer of the band Razorlight, was doing a series of concerts in March and April in small bars in London, Amsterdam and Paris, and that he was doing this cycle of them night after night, week after week, on a kind of mini repeating tour, I wondered if he had fallen on hard times.
This was, after all, the singer and songwriter of a band whose songs I loved half a decade ago, stuff like “The Girl With the Golden Touch,” and especially, “America.” I first listened to him frequently on my car radio, then the first – and only – time I saw the band was in August 2007 at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. Then it ended up that because we had a mutual friend, Borrell came and played two or three songs at my Sunday Brunch at the Mecano Bar open mic, for the friend.

He just did it solo with an acoustic guitar. Then we met up again at another open mic in Paris – at the Bus Palladium – one night when my friend said Johnny was itching to do an open mic, and I was there doing it. Each time, in solo acoustic Borrell was superb. I think he sang one or two new songs he was working on at the Palladium that night, and it sounded okay, kind of cool, but not the end of the world.

So last night when I decided to go see Borrell at the Truskel, I was expecting much the same, hoping some people would show up, and hoping it wasn’t the end of the road for such a wonderful musician.

So it was that I nearly shit my pants when I arrived and found this whole band set up with a great sound system, lots of equipment they are busing around from venue to venue, and above all, an absolutely vibrant, charismatic, madly wonderful performance by Borrell and his new musicians (this is not Razorlight). And the songs! It is very rare, almost unheard of, for me personally to enjoy listening to even the most famous of bands in concert when I have never heard their new music before.

This stuff was wonderful on the first listening. I really enjoyed it, and so did the many, many other people who showed up in that confined space of the Truskel. In fact, I arrived after the concert had started – or right at the beginning – and so found myself in the back of the little room with no room to move. I was therefore constrained to lift my arm high in the air over the heads to get the videos. Apologies. But you still have a chance to go next week and see his last concert at the Truskel – or further ones in London and Amsterdam.

And ultimately my conclusion was that Borrell is not on the skids, but better than ever, or at least as good as ever, and that playing in these small bars seems to be a way of getting this band’s act together out of the spotlight. It has been done before by other bands, but whatever the situation, what counts here is the supercool music being made, and the luck of those who see and hear the band in such venues.

The other good thing was that the concert ended early enough for me to split right afterwards and walk over to Chatelet where the Vieux Léon open mic takes place, and to get up and play a few of my own songs, and watch and hear some of those of my friends, the regulars at the Vieux Léon.

All together a fabulous night.

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