It takes guts to start a show at 8.45pm without support, but that’s exactly what Ezra Furman chooses to do, setting a precedent for brave choice after brave choice. A night with Furman is always a journey but as he asserts in ‘Peel My Orange Every Morning’, “I am shattered, I am bleeding but goddamit I’m alive” – and we’re all as grateful for it as he is to be up there, sincerity shining through with every word.
His development is clear – we’ve got ‘The Visions’ behind him now, not ‘The Boyfriends’, and the everpresent theatricality is ramped up yet another notch. On the eve of releasing new record Transangelic Exodus (out now), we’re treated to plenty of unheard material – all spectacular. While a concept album with a loose plot about being in love with an angel on the run from the law might sound far fetched, it sits uncomfortably close to the skin, spanning religion, queerness, marginalisation and the fear that comes with it, more profound than anything he’s released yet.
Furman’s range is one of his greatest strengths. Opener ‘Come Here Get Away From Me’ evokes images of an old Western, the twanging bass setting a moody tone, with Furman alternating between feedback-y microphones. In contrast, ‘I Lost My Innocence’ is akin to older tracks like ‘Lousy Connection’, but more meanderingly sunshiney and miles from the dark breaks of noisiness in ‘Driving Down to LA’, which proves even more effective live than on record. The ballads are formidably poignant: ‘Compulsive Liar’ hits the pain of contorting yourself into the closet right on the head, and ‘Psalm 151’ ties together the complications and relief of faith, relationships and trust in a disarmingly astute way.
There’s conviction in everything that Furman does, regardless of the fictional context. Born out of “following our obsessions”, there is a sense that this material is honest, important and bursting to get out. His character is anchored, without ever being static – fragmentation, mutation and uncertainty are constantly revisited, with Furman letting us know that even he can’t really explain the album. Equally in many ways he has a clear (but witty) sense of purpose, for example when responding to shouted out song suggestions. The reply? ‘I think actually I’ll just play the song that I want to play’ (which is, for the record, a storming guitar cover of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’).
The covers are true highlights – towards the show’s close we get a stunning rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’, which chimes perfectly with the album’s subject matter. The set’s cohesiveness is one of its outstanding features, with exile, otherness, and the veering emotions that come with the tumult of the search for solace all interwoven in the kind of arc that makes a show one to remember. If this is Ezra Furman just getting started on playing this material live, we can’t wait to see where it goes in May when he’s back and taking on the likes of Brixton academy – you’d be a fool to miss it.