Razorlight @ El Rey, 3/10/07

I are not sure at what point Johnny Borrell lost his shirt on stage or what number cigarette Kristen Dunst is puffing on just outside the entrance, but I am certain within seconds of wandering into the El Rey main room that Razorlight is a real, living, breathing rock n’ roll band. There is that immediate concussive sonic punch coming from the stage that you get only from bands that Have It. It has less to do with sheer dBs than with an overall bigness of sound, that comes from many things, playing chops, a pro on the sound mix and a bit of ineffable rock magic. Borrell is of a dying breed–the traditional charismatic front man–in the vein of Freddy Mercury. He’s got the aforementioned stripped down wardrobe, just enough guitar playing, some decent moves and a loud, if not yet as nuanced as Freddy’s, voice. His charisma makes Brandon Flowers look like Liam Gallagher. Borrell may well be the best young English rock frontman since Brett Anderson of Suede.

Speaking of Liam and Oasis, Razorlight come down squarely on the Oasis side of the old Mods vs. Rockers divide. Their rock is not self consciously arty but it is no less powerful for that fact. Its ambition lies in it’s propulsion, it’s dynamics, but not it’s design. The tunes themselves are solid, if fairy ordinary and they would be dull if not performed with the right energy. For an idea, just conjure the image of “stadium rock anthems” and you have a sense of what they aim towards without even mentioning a single other band. But I’ll go ahead and throw out Tom Petty’s name. It is not surprising that Razorlight–Johnny, specifically–has already a public tiff going with the equally popular Arctic Monkeys, who have that art student cheekiness and lyrical wit of an early Blur. Razorlight don’t have much, if any, irony or post-modernism too them. (Or else there is no way they could do a call and response interlude: “Ooo-ayy-ayy-ooh!” then point the mic at the people–back and forth with a crowd of 900 with a straight face.) Their popularity with young folks (36,000+ posts on their message board) in the U.K. speaks to something, perhaps an irony fatigue of some kind. Somewhere in this equation, the third of the current trio of big young U.K. bands, Bloc Party, factors in. Always lyrically earnest and sonically ambitious, B.P. fills a niche somewhere between Razorlight and Arctic Monkeys. Hopefully, live, they are developing. For sure, when they played this same El Rey stage, while the show was thoroughly enjoyable, there was not nearly the same professional–“careerist,” some might sneer–rock wallop that Razorlight delivered tonight.

Razorlight are not The Next Big Thing. They are, in fact, already a Big Thing, selling millions in the U.K. due to headline Reading this summer and play Earl’s Court. (More surrealistically, they are playing Nelson Mandela’s birthday party in South Africa in July. Wha…?) If they want America too, beyond a sold out El Rey, and onto MTV and Top 40, they’ll have to give themselves over to the old fashioned promotional grind, but that doesn’t always pay off. I wouldn’t recommend it. Ask Ash, Stereophonics, Robbie Williams. Solid careers in England; relegated to cult status Stateside.

Some pictures from the show at this Flickr page.