Andrew Combs, London Borderline, 9th May 2017

Sixty seconds into show opener Rose Colored Blues and the famously hard to please Borderline feet were tapping. Quite an achievement for an Americana songsmith faced with a London crowd of semi-interested drinkers with a copy of Time Out in one hand and a pint of Pride in the other, but Andrew Combs cuts through mediocrity. There were certain factors on his side tonight for sure. The sound was as smooth as his Southern drawl. From my location at the bar it sounded like a band which blended together like a fine single malt.

When Dirty Rain kicked in it was easy to feel that the trump card was being played too early. With a song of that quality how could it possibly get any better. The answer in all honesty is ‘with difficulty’. A song of such purity should capture the heart of every crowd it plays to. Andrew truly becomes an artist not just a musician and the audience feels every nuance. When the band plays to his strengths, which they did throughout, then this song is a showstopper. The big question tonight was how do you not feel such sensitivity when a man sings with such passion about his subject. Pollution taking over the city of Nashville is obviously so close to his heart that the melody brings the dirty rain of the title ever closer to the emotion of the meaning.

Most of the material was centred around Comb’s latest release, Canyons Of The Mind which was to be expected although there was representation from his previous work in the form of All These Dreams and Worried Man, both critically acclaimed works in their own right. But tonight was a night for hearing the new stuff, and a couple of true Brits to Andrew’s delight started to give feedback. Cries of “Outstanding” were in the best possible taste in the absence of rotten fruit. Christina is one of the standout tracks on Canyons and Comb’s Americana in London is going from good to great. Silk Flowers comes next with its surrogate dusty panoramic decay. The band is kicking and the bar is serving and it seems like nothing can go wrong.

And then a funny thing happened. Everyone except Andrew left the stage and there he was. Alone. It was the gig. It was the show. It was part of the act and yet it felt a bit like suddenly everyone was taking a break and leaving the main guy to earn his keep. For thirty minutes we were treated to an extremely good open mic session, a little unfair maybe but consider the context. He could pull the whole gig off on his own no doubt, but after being treated to the band alongside him it felt a bit like we were being deprived. Maybe that was all part of the plan because they all came back and turned the Borderline over soon after. Andrew strapped on a Fender Strat, a huge jam ensued including hit single Emily and encore Hate and once again that tricky Soho crowd was eating out of the palm of Andrew Comb’s hand. All in all a night of dim dystopian beauty to shining raw rock n roll and back again.

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