It’s the first time I’ve walked along Oxford Street since Tottenham Court Road Station has been reopened. It’s a stark contrast to its former self and reminds me how rapidly the face of London has changed of late. The changes led to the demise of a great venue in the form of The Astoria where I was lucky enough to catch Foo Fighters in a past life.
Fortunately, The 100 Club has survived these changes and for almost a century has hosted a plethora of iconic acts including BB King, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols and Metallica to name but a few, but most appropriately for tonight, its formative years right through to present day are steeped in New Orleans music. Johnny Borrell & Zazou are here tonight to début tracks from upcoming LP The Atlantic Culture, some of which featured on the 2013 EP The Artificial Night which had a lukewarm critical reception - one that I personally believe was unjustified, but save lingering on that you can read my review of the LP soon!
The evening opens rather abstractly. Bass player Andy Waterworth comes on stage and seems to spend 10 minutes tuning his bass before improvising to the backing of his macbook for another 20 minutes, all of which is lit by a projector. It’s confusing at best, but not unenjoyable. Following him is the warm and funny singer-songwriter Ryan O’Reilly who’s tracks have great emotional depth embroiled in superficial circumstances. Perhaps he will be a herald for the Facebook generation, he certainly has a solid grasp on the culture and plenty of lyrical witticisms to compliment it. When he’s finished, the audience starts to fill out, they are ready for the main act.
Putting to bed any rumours that Johnny is in fact collaborating with a Disney animated hornbill, he humbly saunters on stage with a band of 5 multi-instrumentalists in the form of Zazou. I could have been easily convinced they were in fancy dress, maybe they were, but they are certainly eccentrically dressed! This contrasts heavily with Johnny, dressed in a 3/4 length coat, black jeans, tee shirt and trainers.
A wave is all he grants the audience before his focus shifts to these musicians, he’s ready to go. After a false start with a problematic violin pickup, they launch into My World completely focussed and absorbed in their music. While Johnny offers little audience interaction, it would be superfluous to have done so as the audience it seems, are just as absorbed. Their presence in modern music may confuse some, but seeing them in this setting makes the most sense. Their blend of swing, jazz and blues feels at points, a lot like Johnny Borrell does Nina Simone, but it’s infectious to the point of delirium. It’s a shame that half the audience seem intent on chatting through the first few songs but by the time they start Camera Song, the audience throughout the venue are to be seen dancing and foot-tapping and their faces in broad grins. In terms of the quality of their performance, I think this speaks louder than my words ever could.
As with any performance, there are a few stand out tracks, The Artificial Night with it’s catchy chorus, the witty Man Gave Names to All the Animals and then the brilliant and soulful sax-filled 60 Thompson which made the hairs on my neck stand up. Johnny stops briefly towards the end of the set to thank the audience for coming down and listening then introduces each band member during Atonal Rag giving each of them a moment for an obligatory solo.
They briefly depart the stage after Hey Nonny, but the audience aren’t going to let them off of an encore. They return to the stage with Swim Like a Star and bow out after Erotic Letter which Johnny jokingly introduces as a song about the postal service.
All in all it’s a great performance and a great night, one I would happily repeat. Razorlight don’t feature here but nor are they missed. I would urge you to cast aside your preconceptions and go catch them if you can, I doubt you’ll regret it.