Roundhouse – 31 October
You can learn a lot about Ezra Furman’s rise to cult status by observing the crowds at his shows. It’s an unlikely cross-section of society. A sizeable portion are middle-aged men, here to witness Ezra and his backing band, The Boy-Friends, stoke the fire of a bygone era of rock’n’roll, its embers still smouldering and spitting in Ezra’s well-manicured hands. Then there’s the younger, queer crowd, who look to Ezra as one of their own as a flagbearer of a generation that eschew traditional gender and sexual identities. Ezra is very much at a unique intersection between the traditional and the transgressive, and his shows are a home for the strange.
And keeping with the theme of strangeness (it is Halloween, after all), opening act Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon are an extraordinary revelation. It is, in essence, Charlotte Church and her mates roaring through covers of their favourite songs. Charlotte and her eight-piece band, dressed like a spiritual clan from the 70s in the secluded hills of Los Angeles, give a shamanic rock’n’roll makeover to anything and everything from Basement Jaxx, Lauryn Hill, En Vogue and The Cardigans. But it’s an unexpected mashup of RATM’s ‘Killing in The Name’ and Destiny’s Child ‘Independent Women, Pt. I’ that really has jaws dropping to the floor.
Not to be outdone, Ezra is carried on inside a pink coffin at the 3000-capacity Roundhouse, his biggest show to date. His moppish, teal dyed hair, black dress and signature granny pearls are almost Brian Molko-esque…until he opens his mouth. His slow, strung-out bark on ‘Big Maybelle’ is a stark, menacing opening. Ezra teeters on the edge of the stage, holding on to his mic stand for dear life until The Boy-Friend’s unleash themselves into the frantic, bar brawl ditty ‘Anything Can Happen’. It’s a compelling start to a storming, 90-minute set that never loses its sense of momentum or reverence.
Ezra is at his most vital when the incendiary heat of the music meets the raw sentiments of his words. His last album, Perpetual Motion People, struck a chord with many because it spoke truths about a sense of hopelessness, a wariness of life that is seldom told in such honest and beautifully poetic detail. Tonight, it’s hard not to be swept up in the cathartic cleansing of certain songs, particularly during the run-away-train crescendo of ‘Tip of a Match’ or the rousing ‘Ordinary Life’, (“Just cause you’re sick of ordinary life, doesn’t mean you should bottle up and die”). Other stand-out moments come from a solo, electric guitar-reworking of ‘Penetrate’, from Ezra’s new EP Big Fugitive Life which, in its new incarnation, sounds like a cousin Billy Bragg’s ‘St Swithins Day’, while fan favourite ‘My Zero’ is still charmingly bittersweet, and that rarest of thing; a breakup song you can get down to.
The power of Ezra’s shows lies in the commitment to his art, his life on the road and the stories he shares. “Rock’n’roll”, Ezra muses, just before his encore, “Just the phrase alone releases endorphins. Sometimes it can save your life… I feel utterly free”. As with everything Ezra does, you emphatically believe him.
Photos by Rebecca Hughes.