Ezra Furman | Roundhouse | 31 October 2016
“I’m feeling quite overwhelmed,” declares Ezra Furman. The Roundhouse is one of the biggest venues he’s headlined but, if anything, its size has only amplified his performance. “I’m getting carried away up here,” he continues, laughing, from the stage, “but isn’t that the point?”
Dressed in a fitted black dress and pearls, the natural-born showman and raconteur has already emerged a coffin bearing a rose – it is Halloween after all – and will go on to speak passionately about looking out for those who are powerless. Not even comparing the audience to locomotives in need of repair – since this London landmark was originally a “hospital for broken trains” – derails an electric performance that relies as much on spontaneity as musical precision.
Backed by The Boy-Friends, four crack musicians more than capable of keeping up, Furman ensures that, like the song promises, “anything can happen”. Brassy ballads (‘Haunted Head’, ‘Day Of The Dog’, ‘Lousy Connection’) pair doo-wop, Motown, and classic Rolling Stones with lyrics about hangovers, the Plagues of Egypt, and karaoke. Ska flavours creep into the effervescent ‘Little Piece of Trash’, ‘And Maybe God Is A Train’ channels ‘80s indie and throws in a jubilant sax solo from Tim Sandusky for good measure, the celebratory ‘My Zero’ is the sort of otherworldly pop you might expect from The B-52s, and ‘Pot Holes’ swings like 1950s New York – you can almost smell the brylcreem – while name-checking London, England.
Continuing the effortless eclecticism, ‘Tip Of A Match’ buzzes like old-school new wave, ‘Teddy I’m Ready’ is a glorious burst of California-dreamin’ sunshine, ‘I Wanna Destroy Myself’ is a punk-jazz punch up, ‘Restless Year’ pairs the Violent Femmes on acid with confessions like “Death waits for me to destroy her”, and in the space of four minutes ‘Can I Sleep In Your Brain’ transforms from Beatles ballad to a garage jam.
But the live-wire singer-songwriter knows that sometimes less is more. The minimalist folk of ‘Ordinary Life’ exposes its themes of depression and self-realisation for all to see, and the stark, solo renditions of ‘Penetrate’ and ‘Wild Rosemarie’ recall vintage Dylan, but the sentiments are very much Furman’s – real, raw, and exposed.
That openness, regardless of the genre he chooses, forms a tangible connection between the musician and his audience, a mutual love that fills this onetime hospital for broken trains with a warm glow of feelgood positivity.