When I travel, I always look for a possible concert to go to, so I was happy to see that Ezra Furman was playing Bowery Ballroom while visiting New York. Tonight’s support artist, Shilpa Ray and her band are wonderful. Ray has been a fixture on the New York/East Coast scene for a few years now and has worked with Nick Cave, but the big break hasn’t quite happened, which is baffling considering how compelling a live performer is and intriguing songwriter she is. I don’t know any of the songs, but I like them all. Her voice is tremendous, from honey-sweet to sandpaper-coarse; she can whisper seductively and scream in anguish with the best of them. A bit of punk, a bit of cabaret, a bit of sea shanty – all done with heart and soul.
And then it’s time for Ezra Furman, who enters the stage with his band, all dressed in blue jumpsuits as if they’re going to work on a construction site rather than playing music on a stage. Ezra, of course, is wearing a dress as he usually (always?) is. Ezra straps on his guitar and attacks the microphone with intense gusto, lots of spitting when he sneers the words with angry precision, shedding a ton of nervous energy that translates into a stage presence that is tense and cool in equal measures. He’s a bit of a paradox, wearing his dress and makeup, but with quite manly mannerisms, singing his old school style rock and roll and punk songs, smearing them with his twist, taking total ownership of a music genre that’s been done to death. However, somehow there are still sonic treasures to be found when someone like Ezra Furman digs in.
He plays one of my favourite songs, Haunted Head, with evocative lyrics like, ‘I take these aimless drives, from 2 am to 4 I live these secret lives, Identities that all die off not one survives, By morning there’s nobody at the wheel’.
Two of my favourite songs from Furman’s latest album, Trauma and My Teeth Hurt are played in succession before one of many highlights; Body Was Made. A song about body-shaming and the fact that our bodies are nobody’s business but our own. It’s a severe and poignant issue that nevertheless manages to be sexy and seductive.
After an energetic cover of The Equals’ Police on My Back, it’s time for the last song and the ultimate question: What Can You Do but Rock n Roll? In our current world, stuck in regression, we all have to do our bit to try and turn the tide. But when the weight of the world gets too overwhelming, perhaps the best thing to do is put on your dancing shoes and simply rock it and roll with it.
Ezra Furman setlist
(Intro song – Street Hassle, Lou Reed)
1. Suck the Blood from My Wound
2. Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone
3. Rated R Crusaders
4. Haunted Head
6. My Teeth Hurt
7. Body Was Made
8. Psalm 151
9. In America
10. Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill
11. I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend
12. My Zero
13. Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere
14. No Place
15. Driving Down to LA
16. Love You So Bad
17. Evening Prayer aka Justice
19. On Your Own
20. Police on My Back (The Equals cover)
21. What Can You Do but Rock n Roll