Shepherd Bush Empire – September 22nd
Ezra Furman is a striking figure. He arrives on stage at the Shepherd Bush Empire – the biggest show of his career to date – wearing a high-waisted red skirt, his trademark granny pearls draped round his neck, red lipstick and bright blue hair with a yarmulke sat atop his head. His small frame is dwarfed by the near-luminous white electric strapped round his shoulders. Needless to say, it’s a strong look.
Backed by his regular band, The Boy-Friends, they strike themselves into ‘Anything Can Happen’ and ‘At The Bottom of the Ocean’. It’s an incendiary start with his gritty, gravelly howl, a voice like kerosene to antagonised memories and anxiety-riddled emotions, igniting a cathartic energy to the evening.
The success of his latest album Perpetual Motion People has caused Furman’s star to rise rapidly, and there is a sense that tonight’s show is a real moment of realisation and reckoning for the singer-songwriter. It’s all become very real. “Two thousand people at Shepherd’s Bush? What the hell happened? It’s weird, but that’s okay, we like weird.” He’s beaming and makes numerous references to realising his dreams throughout the show.
Fans of his previous records will have been pleased with the amount of older material in his near-two hour set, which transgressed the 11pm curfew. The bluesy-swagger of ‘And Maybe God Is a Train’ is mesmerising to watch, partly due to a thunderous sax solo by Boy-Friend Tim Sandusky while ‘My Zero’ feels like a hand-written love note to everyone in the audience. They respond by merrily bopping in the stands, perhaps an hour too late, but better late than never. A fiery, urgent rendition of ‘Tip of a Match’ is equally transfixing, with Furman screaming the final line, “If you feel like the tip of a match, then strike yourself on something rough”, like his life depended on it.
Furman looks like a real rock star tonight. His legs bend inwards, a little like Paul Simonon on the London Calling cover, with a guitar lead wrapped around his leg. He skates unpredictably across the stage like Bambi on ice – sometimes his posturing is so precarious you’re not certain he can get back to the mic for the next line. This feel especially appropriate on the manic, gender-fluidity anthem ‘Wobbly’, which see Furman jump down to the crowd barrier. By this point, there’s no stopping him.
The encore begins with a haunting cover of The Replacement’s ‘Androgynous’ and then Arcade Fire’s ‘Crown of Love’. Small mosh pits emerge for a bolshy rendition of ‘Restless Year’ and ‘Lousy Connection’ is the sing-along anthem you’d it expect it to be, even if Ezra forgets the odd line here and there. Two standing ovations in the seating areas would suggest that no one cared.
Comparisons to Lou Reed and David Bowie have been made and I would agree that there is something to it. Furman feels akin to these artists in the sense that he feels vital, like they undoubtedly would have done when they first broke through. There is something very zeitgeisty about a bisexual, gender fluid, cross dressing artist playing a type of rock’n’roll music that is very hard to pin down. Nor should you want to. The unpredictable, intangible brilliance of Ezra Furman, as demonstrated tonight, is where the beauty lies.