A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Port O'Brien & Laura Gibson, The Borderline, 06/04/10

When I heard last year that the Borderline was going to close for a couple of months for refurbishment I wasn’t particularly worried. I imagined it would maybe involve some replastering, a few new coats of paint and maybe a little tidying up here and there. I went along to the new, refurbished venue for the first time on Tuesday to see Port O’Brien and Laura Gibson. As I approached I began to feel quite nervous over the changes I was about to see….

Things got off to a good start as I entered and saw that the photographs of bands to have previously played the venue remained on the walls of the main entrance. So far, so good. Then, heading towards the stairs I noticed the framed lists of bands to have played the venue had gone, replaced by a series of empty frames (presumably which will eventually house more photographs). Disappointing I thought, but continued to move downstairs cautiously into the venue. On first glance there didn’t seem to have been a lot of changes. The layout generally remained the same. Then I noticed a second bar, directly opposite the main bar. Quite a good, sensible addition. Then, I slowly noticed the changes in décor and other alterations made since my last visit. I paused to take it all in….overcome with a wave of mixed feelings.

There is now a red curtain around the back of the stage (which kind of makes it look a little similar to the Luminaire in Kilburn and totally obscures the classic Borderline logo that used to be visible in the background as bands played). There is a cash machine (!) next to the main bar. Comfortable seating appears to have been installed in the back area. The main bar has new contemporary wooden décor. The little seating gallery to the left of the stage has been kept and redecorated. The toilets have been upgraded (although still ridiculously small). A new flat screen TV has replaced the outdated, old box top that used to relay bands to the bar-dwellers. It now looks more like a Soho music venue as opposed to previously when it looked like an individually unique, small bar from the dusty, American mid-west that had been miraculously transported across the ocean to central London.

I can understand why the owners felt the need to modernise but I couldn’t help feeling a little sadness as I sat on the steps in front of the stage before the gig started. The old Borderline had a certain ramshackle charm that simply didn’t exist anywhere else on the London gig scene. The Borderline may have gained a more modern, cleaner look but I think in doing so it has unfortunately lost a tiny bit of its character. And that’s a huge shame. I liked the old venue with its air of slight dilapidation and preponderance of natural, wooden décor.

Anyway, pleasingly, the layout remains unaltered which is the most important aspect. It still overwhelmingly remains a great, intimate place to watch bands and the atmosphere on Tuesday was as good as I’ve experienced in the decade I have been going. Possibly the most important result of the refurbishment is the improved sound. The rattling, vibrating pipework that used to echo out from the ceiling has been fixed and no longer interferes.

Ok, enough about the venue. Now on to the gig….

Portland, Oregon songstress Laura Gibson was first up with her clever, prettified acoustic-country-folk songs. Tonight she performs on stage wearing a red dress, the epitome of classic feminine country chic. She gets us to help out on an “experimental” a capella song. Her sweetly American-accented vocals occasionally recall Laura Cantrell (maybe if she had been reared on American folk songs instead of country songs). She closes her set with the rolling, rippling 'Spirited' from her latest album ‘Beasts Of Seasons’.

California's Port O’Brien soon come on stage next – this evening as a four-piece band featuring two new members (drummer and guitarist) after the previous duo were unable to make the European tour (which singer Van Pierszalowski appears less than thrilled about). Their melding of dynamic American-guitar-power-pop with weather-beaten alt-country sounds and brilliantly rough-around-the-edges rock thrills the capacity crowd tonight. They play old favourites 'Stuck On A Boat', 'Close The Lid' and 'Fisherman’s Son'. Later in the set during the slower tracks, they almost sound like a ragged Neil Young, especially on ‘Sour Milk/Salt Water’. They play current album favourite ‘My Will Is Good’. They close their main set with a rambunctious, sing-along version of ‘I Woke Up Today’. They then come back on to play ‘The Rooftop Song’ as requested by an audience member. This, despite the guitarist not knowing it (a brief description of the chords and structure of the song by front man Pierszalowski to the new guitarist Nico is all that is needed). Quite impressive.

The animated Pierszalowski continuously darts back and forth across the stage for most of the evening, and appears to be loving the show. Towards the end of the set he successfully attempts to climb on top of the drum kit (as the drummer continues to play). As an act I always find it to be quite an enjoyable spectacle (last witnessed by Warren Ellis of The Dirty Three).

A very enjoyable gig and proof, if any was needed, that the Borderline will continue to be the scene of many a great gig to come.

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