Review: Ezra Furman @ Gorilla

By Martin Guttridge Hewitt | 24 November 2015

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Rejected, dejected and utterly incomparable, the fast rising, critically acclaimed spokesman for outsiders everywhere exemplifies how, every so often, raw talent can beat any odds. 

IMG_1212 copyEnfant terrible. The twisted, booze-loving offspring of Jim Jones and some disturbed femme fatale. The most poignant songwriter in modern music.

There are plenty of ways you could describe Ezra Furman, that young American kid who very nearly gave up on music altogether when his homeland dismissed his LP, Day of the Dog, but whose faith in the game was restored thanks to the interest of Britons. Perhaps the most fitting, though, is simply ‘incomparable’.

Calling on myriad influences, from rockabilly to whisky-soaked blues, his is an ethic that’s as punk as it is surreal. Tonight, in the dark confines of Gorilla, there’s barely an inch of room to move, with the date having sold out weeks ago. And for good reason. It feels as though this alternative rock ‘n’ roller was born into the wrong era- destined to wander the world lost without New York’s East Village of the late-1970s to call home. Yet if there’s one place he feels comfortable it’s wrapped in pain, hope, despair, heartbreak and joy, as realised through music in a live arena. Put simply, he’s a natural born performer.

Opening with a stunning, at times screamed rendition of The Velvet Undergound’s Rock & Roll, which he dares make his own, the phrase heart on sleeve comes to mind. Explaining his love for Manchester- site of the first gig that showed some people cared about his work-  the frenetic pace set by that first number doesn’t let up as the show finds its gear. From new album, Perpetual Motion People, Tip Of A Match comes across even more ferociously rebellious and distorted than on record, Lousy Connection’s 50s-inspired framework conjures the ghost of Buddy Holly, and Ordinary Life unites the packed house in chorus with its astute commentary on the cliches of appearance and what society deems to be beautiful.

It could almost be this upstart’s anthem. Proudly sporting a grey skirt, red lipstick and blue-tinged hair, to say he’s on the side of the rejected, dejected outsider would be an understatement. Hence At The Bottom of the Ocean being particularly resonant. Inviting us all to the briny depths where judgements don’t factor into everyday life, indicative of how left of the middle his on-stage rhetoric gets, with so much meaning in every lyric there’s a tangible sense of understanding amongst the crowd- like some mutual therapy session. Fittingly, then, soon after the band departs, leaving Furman alone, six string in hand, vulnerable and ready to give himself over to us completely.

Of course it’s not long before we’re off again, riding a runaway train destined to call at stops ranging from gender identity to religion, guided by uptempo and- at times- deceptively poppy rhythms and guitar melodies. Concluding with another cover that could rival the original, Arcade Fire’s ode to loss, the need for redemption or closure, Crown of Love, it confirms one thing, if not more. From his beginnings- ignored and disappointed- to his current status as a cult figure in music, Furman is an example of how raw talent and the ability to speak to people can occasionally be enough to beat the odds. A legend in the making? Perhaps. And it’s not often critics get to say things like that.