Johnny Borrell and Zazou, Water Rats, gig review

Welcome back, Johnny

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As the Libertines prepare to drag themselves into another sorry reunion at Hyde Park, their erstwhile mucker Johnny Borrell is undergoing, on the stage of a 200-capacity theatre, a very different sort of rebirth.

In Razorlight's best stuff there was always an element of pompous ridiculousness, tempered by a wide-eyed belief. With his new work, the chest-thumping is largely gone, but the unselfconsious energy and melodic sense remain. And full credit to him for pressing on; Razorlight can still get a high spot on festival billings, and shouldering through the commercial disaster  of last year’s solo debut ‘Borrell 1’ takes grit.

And while a Metro interview published this same day, in which he asserts that you’ll find more truth walking down the street with an instrument than by reading the news proves that Johnny hasn’t lost his stadium-sized lip, the music on his new EP ‘The Artificial Night’ faces determinedly forward into a downsized future; tonight’s setlist gives only brief nods to the past in the form of ‘Vice’ and ‘In The City’.

The new stuff mingles soul, 'Exile On Main St' voodoo blues and jazzy Continental bistro sounds; at moments it recalls early E-Street band, everyone banging tambourines and hollering, searching for the spirit in the night. At other times you can't help but think of 'Rattle And Hum'-era U2. Just the sort of stuff critics love!

You get the feeling though that Johnny, who with his straggly beard and impassioned foot-hopping resembles a man desperately signalling a distant oil tanker from the island of skinny suits on which he's shipwrecked, cares less about his critics (and the news) than he ever did.

He's happy, and the new songs sound more relaxed than those on 'Borrell 1', ‘Artificial Night’'s melody dancing like a firefly over a sultry, swampy mood and 'Camera Song' revelling in a rich, Band-ish rootsiness.

And no man who covers Dylan's 'Man Gave Names To All The Animals' can be taking himself that seriously, even while he's strolling down his street with his guitar, searching for the truth.

Welcome back, Johnny.