Ezra Furman is known for being fucked up, loud and unpredictable. Last night we were delighted by all three as Furman and his three bandmates put on a fast-paced, highly entertaining rock show at Red Palace.
His fast guitar riffs, powerful harmonica playing, and uninhibited rockstar flailing, combines with way too much introspection and his lyrical wit to falls somewhere between British punk and Conner Oberst, with more than a tinge of folky americana. His voice, like him, seems just one step away from becoming completely unhinged as it grinds and lightly crackles above the rest of the music.
On Sunday I kept thinking how refreshing it was to receive this kind of rocknroll slap in the face. Unapologetic, unrestrained rock isn’t easy to come by in today’s indie landscape that typically bows down to polished synth beats.
On the other hand, It’s hard to know what to expect with Ezra Furman. When I saw him previously he stripped to his underwear and played half the show in whitey-tighties, which I asked him about on Sunday. The not-quite-coherent answer was something along the lines that he was afraid to do it and so he wanted to do it.
Before the show started, I was getting water at the back of the room with my friend when the boyish looking man of the hour walked up to the cooler donning a collared shirt with vertical pink stripes and an embroidered red Wendy’s logo. My friend asked him where he had bought his shirt.
Furman: Wendy gave it to me.
Me: What? She’s here?
Furman: She has red pigtails.
Me: I’ll look for her.
“We are Ezra Furman…and the Escape from Boredom. I just got off from Wendy’s…(head cock and sly smile)…THEY CAN’T FIRE ME…(manic smile)…because,” he growled, “I QUIT!” Barely a split second passed before we were deep into throws of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde from his 2012 album The Year Of No Returning.
I found myself excitedly anticipating these ridiculous, ad-libbed interludes between the songs. Despite the fact that he could barely walk and eye contact was beyond hope; despite the fact that he seemed to ramble about whatever came into his head; despite the fact that his band had to cut him off between songs with a count to alert him to shut up and play, he’s not stupid, and he doesn’t say stupid things for the sake of saying stupid things.
He says things that come to his mind based on simple, observations. If you’ve listened to his music you know that he excels at clever, insightful, albeit sometimes dark, song-writing, mostly about his own quest for love, happiness and God. He might come off sometimes as disturbed and depressed in song and show – he might actually be those things, I don’t know – but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, a talented guitarist and despite being about my (average lady) height, he stands 20 feet tall when he’s on stage.
Most of the set for this show came from Mysterious Power released in 2011 by Ezra Furman & The Harpoons, and The Year Of No Returning released with a different band this year. Audience favorites? I Killed Myself But I Didn’t Die, The Queen of Hearts, Bloodsucking Whore, Take Off Your Sunglasses and a Please Mr. Postman cover.
We Barbarians, a guitar-bass-drums trio from Brooklyn, opened the show. They were energetic and on point, and the lead singer has a smooth low voice that shined especially bright on slower songs like Chambray off their new EP, Headspace. Even for a sparsely filled room they were oddly casual, talking among themselves and at times choosing songs on the fly, which at some point got awkward. Maybe it was their whiskey or maybe it was an attempt to dispel the awkwardness, but eventually the drummer decided to give away a copy of Headspace to anyone who wanted it.
On the other hand, Ezra Furman had no trouble at all charming the room, which had filled out considerably once he went on. A few die hards stood up front, and by the end some girls managed to get themselves drunk enough to come up and dance. After 18 songs, Ezra Furman was ready to keep going, and the band cut him off. In fact, he seemed unaware of context or time for a lot of the show. It seemed mostly up to the band to start each song, and with a happy glint of recognition, Furman would jump right in. I get the impression they have to reel him in and keep him in check often. Although, in this case the audience would have enthusiastically let them keep playing.
- We Are Barbarians