It was an ugly night in Brixton - all screaming sirens and violent inebria.
It was an ugly night in Brixton - all screaming sirens and violent inebria. The perfect night, then, for Razorlight and their narcissistic frontman Jonny Borrell to rouse the Academy rabble. It is easy to underestimate how good a venue the Brixton Academy is: the design is grandiose but intimate, and a performance with genuine charisma fills the room effortlessly. The Duke Spirit, who preceded the main event, for all the efforts of their sassy lead singer, failed to bring the audience out of themselves in a way that supporting acts sometimes achieve. But from the moment Borrell strutted onstage, not one pair of eyes left him.
"This is the Razorlight sound," muttered Borrell, before launching into the crisp opening chords of "Up All Night". There are a number of bands approximating the punk and early Eighties influences that have crept back into the British rock consciousness of late, but few have translated them so successfully as these four skinny boys.
It is not so much a sound as a stylistic package - audience members wearing white jackets and rolled up sleeves ape their heroes, who, set against Japanese-style red and blue backgrounds, look every inch the New Wave pioneers. Borrell, who periodically stripped and crooned, and climbed on stage equipment, delighted his fans as much with his bravura as with his vocals.
But Razorlight are first and foremost a group of musicians with serious talent, and the "Razorlight sound", in its live incarnation, is breathtaking.
Where to start. The unaccompanied vocals with which "Leave Me Alone" begins were brutally percussive and so rhythmically tight that, when the guitars wailed in after the first verse, the effect was spine-chilling. The crowd exploded to the anthemic chorus of "Vice", and they were teased along by the self-indulgent pauses of "In the City". The gospel backing vocals to "Golden Touch", a track the band memorably performed unplugged at Glastonbury, were incongruous in the setting, but strangely effective. The one new track, a ballad called "I Can't Explain", was performed by Borrell with only his guitar for comfort. This song, coupled with the plangent "Fall, Fall, Fall" formed a mellow two-track encore set, which showed the range and quality of the lead singer's voice, and had the audience eating out of his hands.
The band climaxed with the jagged syncopated chords of "Stumble and Fall", and, right on cue, the evacuation of over-enthusiastic crowd-surfers by burly security men kicked into action. The set had lasted an hour and 20 minutes - not bad for what was essentially a re-working of their debut album, but short enough to feel slightly underdone. A young band can only work with the tracks they have, but Razorlight's best performances will come when they have more material. If they can sustain the energy and exuberance of these early shows, and, more importantly, the accuracy with which they play, then a 2005 gig will be truly special. For once, the hyperbole surrounding new bands is justified - Razorlight are an outfit with attitude, talent and era-defining tunes.