Gig Review: Johnny Borrell and Art Brut

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Bravado is an essential ingredient when it comes to rock and pop music. Ever since the Beatles declared themselves to be ‘bigger than Jesus’ there’s been a succession of stars bigging themselves up with varying degrees of self delusion.

The last week has seen two such performers roll in to Glasgow on tours - one giving a masterclass in infectious belief and the other a salutary lesson on how it can all go horribly wrong.

When Art Brut take to the stage at Glasgow’s Broadcast it’s not the band many expected to see. Just a week before two members of the group left, swiftly replaced days before a nationwide tour.

It’s no problem for lead singer, bon viveur and Axl Rose devotee Eddie Argos - just another anecdote in a career filled with high hopes and spectacular failure.

Hotly tipped alongside Franz Ferdinand as pioneers of the ‘Art Rock’ movement of the early 2000s, their debut album ‘Bang, Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was lauded. Opening track ‘Formed A Band’ was a mission statement, pledging to “write the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along” and play Top of the Pops eight weeks in a row. Their biggest hit stalled at number 41 and subsequent albums sold in ever decreasing numbers.

The current tour is in support of ‘best of’ compilation ’Top of the Pops’ - an album where they ‘forgot’ to include the title track and which is destined to be little more than a footnote in musical history.

But when Argos takes to the tiny basement stage he may as well be headlining the nearby Hydro. Giving everything to the performance he jerks, pogos and wades into the eager audience, playing every song he knows they want to hear.

He may not be particularly successful, but when he performs both he and his audience don’t just think he’s the best frontman on earth - for 90 minutes they KNOW it.

Compare and contrast with Johnny Borrell, who just a few years ago was headlining Live 8, having sold millions of records with his band Razorlight. He appeared on the cover of Vogue and dated Hollywood royalty. Borrell was that rarest of breeds - a rock star whose unlimited ambition and self-confidence seemed to have been fulfilled.

But he believed his own hype, released a stinker of an album in ‘Slipway Fires’, with the follow-up shelved by his fed-up record company.

It must be a shock to go from stadiums to cupboards in a short time - but maybe the biggest shock is that King Tut’s is half empty. Those who stayed away were right though; Borrell is as cocksure as ever but is now performing a strange type of dead-eyed limp lounge-funk, backed by a troop of Basque musicians.

Best performer in the word? He’s probably not even the best performer on the stage.