Razorlight, Alexandra Palace, London

Light at the end of the tunnel
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

They finished with the old favourite "Stumble & Fall", but, on a belated hometown return, Razorlight showed that only the first half of that title was prophetic. Their front man, Johnny Borrell, tempted fate when he described his band's debut album as better than that of Bob Dylan, and many were waiting for them to trip up.

They finished with the old favourite "Stumble & Fall", but, on a belated hometown return, Razorlight showed that only the first half of that title was prophetic. Their front man, Johnny Borrell, tempted fate when he described his band's debut album as better than that of Bob Dylan, and many were waiting for them to trip up.

Sure enough, their US jaunt ended in farce as Borrell fled the stage half-way through a gig, then cancelled the rest of the dates because of laryngitis. Amid rumours of a split, the group also postponed a UK tour that included this north London venue, a mere pint-pot's throw from where the motormouth vocalist grew up.

As if to remind us that some performances can be explosive, a digital display counted down the half-hour to their entrance, an effect rather spoilt by a ham-fisted attempt by Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh to whip up the crowd. Much more interesting was the elegant stage-set, with lampstands, Japanese-style screens and the sort of foliage used by British Sea Power.

The guitarist Bjorn Agren made use of a club chair at one point, but otherwise the props were ignored throughout a breathless show of solidarity. In interviews, Borrell has often deemed his bandmates unworthy, but now he sang over the drummer's shoulder in a classic rock pose. Then the vocalist beckoned Agren and the bassist Carl Dalemo from the farthest reaches of Ally Pally's vast stage to play shoulder to shoulder in front of the drum riser.

Yet no matter how high Dalemo jumped or how coolly Agren posed, the show was all about one man. Borrell, the former Libertine made good on his own terms, was pure showman. The bulk of the set, drawn from the sharp, shiny take on Eighties new wave of the album Up All Night, had been heard many times before, though it still sounded fresh as Borrell sang with more control, giving his urgent yelping more authority. Several numbers started almost a cappella, while the title track began at a whisper and ended in a fierce scream. As is now customary, Borrell's jacket and shirt came off, though slowly and teasingly over the course of the evening.

While the bulk of the set stuck to a limited palette of choppy guitar chords, two new songs suggested that Razorlight had ambition to match Borrell's ego. The forthcoming single "Somewhere Else" started as a sprightly pop tune, then built into a rolling epic with the bright melody still at its heart. Somewhere amid its intricate arrangement, Dalemo added eerie string effects on a Mellotron. Bye bye, post-punk; hello, prog-pop. On "Keep the Right Profile", Borrell focused his verbiage on a vicious attack against faddish lifestyles, spiked on a jerky ska-punk rhythm.

The vocalist allowed himself a boyish smile as he returned for a solo take on the ballad "Fall, Fall, Fall" that segued into a sensitive reworking of Kings of Leon's "Milk". You can admire how seriously he takes himself, but remember: even the exuberant "In the City" is like Patti Smith done in the style of Kim Wilde. Once Borrell admits his populist streak, he could be rather sweet.

Comments