As Illinois’ Ezra Furman brings his carnival of the bizarre to the Arts Club, Getintothis’ Del Pike stood by to take in the spectacle, and a new fan was born.
We were feeling lucky tonight, and why not. It’s not too often a talent as rare and unique as Ezra Furman comes to town, especially on a rainy Sunday. Ezra is not your usual run of the mill frontman, oh no, avoiding comparisons with previous cross-dressing glam guys, Ezra possesses talent and charisma to stand alone. At only 29 he has already accrued six albums under his belt with previous band The Harpoons, a solo album and his new offering Perpetual Motion People marking his third with his Boy-friends.
On entering The Arts Club, The Big Moon were already shining bright. Four energetic girls who seemed to be enjoying themselves and as such set the mood for the rest of the night. It was easy to draw comparisons with the many girl led rock bands, particularly of the 90s but The Big Moon had their own style, which was basically loud but kind of nice too. Among their set of self-penned songs that included new single, The Road, they managed to squeeze in a top version of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger and owned it right there. Particularly impressive was the drummer who also managed to play keyboards, almost as part of the kit. We liked The Big Moon and they left too soon. Ezra liked them too berating latecomers “If you missed them – you fucked up”.
Ezra’s witty comments sealed the night for us, giving his set a narrative of sorts. While it was all very tongue in cheek, his commitment to creating a character (surely he can’t be like this all the time) is admirable. Starting low key with a Tom Waits drawl through Day of the Dog, and picking up immediately with the decidedly upbeat Caroline Jones, we are introduced to Ezra’s Little world. This is a land of “alienation and bad communication” he reminds us repeatedly.
He also likes to check if we are his friend or enemy, and is overly cautious of those who shout “friend”. Of course it’s an act and it makes us warm to him all the more. With his green hair, eventually unleashed from his brattish snapback, and red smeared lips he looks frighteningly like Jared Leto’s Joker from the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, looking even worse when he smiles.
As the tunes continue, we become even more aware of his range, both in the wide net of musical styles on show and in his voice, plummeting from high falsetto to the growl of a barfly in seconds. At The Bottom of the Ocean introduces a psychobilly element to the band, veering dangerously into Cramps territory. Songs like Maybe God Is a Train and Haunted Head offer glimpses into Ezra’s twisted psyche. The spoken intro to Haunted Head finds him naked in the kitchen cooking a One eyed-Ginsberg (Fried bread with an egg in the middle).
The Guardian have described Ezra Furman as “the most compelling act you can see right now”, and they may be right, this might just be a contender for gig of the year, as it’s not just the man himself that compels but the whole band of Boy-friends. We were particularly drawn to the saxophonist and sometime maraca player Tim Sandusky. Sax doesn’t always work in pop and can lead to Careless Whispers, but meet the exception. Owing more than a little to Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay, Tim is the cement in this band. Absolutely off the scale at times but essential to the whole mood of the show. There is definitely a Roxy Music touch here, particularly the style of their first couple of albums with Brian Eno on board.
Ezra has played down the flamboyancy tonight wearing an 80s jumper and black trousers, disappointing the young lads who turned up in dresses tonight. “So much for solidarity” a skirted lad said to us as we left the venue.
Ezra brings the chaos down a notch with Bad Man, delivered as a torch song (without the torch) and the Arts Club suddenly becomes the Kit-Kat club from Cabaret. He is able to do this, changing the mood of the room by simply altering his voice, a rare skill. At other times his high camp vocals turn the room into The Rocky Horror Show. Body Was Made is dedicated tonight to “First and foremost, all the queers, anyone else can listen, but it’s for the queers”. When he does wry humour in this way he sounds like a cross between Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon and Marge Simpson; he’s a natural comic.
Once he has enamoured himself with the audience and established we are fiends not enemies, he goes and spoils it all by shrieking “Here we stand in the shadow of the fucking Beatles, we don’t need to live up to these high standards!” He gets away with it and finishes the set with a rousing Tell ‘Em All to go to Hell, almost falling from the stage in the process.
A short but welcome encore starts with a humbling statement thanking us for coming, “If you weren’t here I wouldn’t have shit”, and we are treated to an electric cover of The Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll before closing with the inevitable anthem Restless Year.
We came away feeling like we had been to Twin Peaks and back via The Addam’s Family mansion, a strange tour of the dark side of small town America. A truly individual spirit and as mad as a lorry but with a set of tunes like no-one else, Ezra may have been around a long time, but he still hasn’t had his moment in the sun. With shows like this it won’t be long before he has the indie world at his feet, completely inspirational.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters.