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Jeffrey LewisEdit this event
As Jeffrey Lewis is a comic book artist, consider this analogy: if music as an art form was more like painting, you’d have your Mogwais with their fancy visual landscapes, with their flecks and dashes of bright colour against a calm, serene backdrop. You’d also have Fall Out Boy peddling run-of-the-mill family portraits on the cheap from a basement in Newbury, and then you’d have people like Jeff Lewis grabbing a handful of crayons and going over the colouring book lines with a look of glee, before delicately summoning a masterpiece on the next page. Of course, the piece in question would probably be of a giant, green, goofy one-eyed monster or something. Naturally.
Of the thirteen ‘parts’ that comprise tonight’s exhibition – to call them “songs” wouldn’t be entirely correct – Jeff leads the way in seven of them, with his band consisting of brother Jack, drummer Dave plus a couple of special guests including Grandmaster Gareth from Misty’s Big Adventure helping out on the other six. In full swing, the Jeff Lewis Band is a brash explosion of punk complete with yelped backing vocals and lo-fi guitar played ham-fistedly. In 'Jekyll & Hyde'-style musical contrast, Lewis’ solo performances are humble, humorous and technically sound, but most of all quite unique in the use of his talents.
Opening the set alone looking non-descript as ever, Jeff reads a poem about a “personal sex therapist” from a dog-eared piece of paper. The delivery is rushed, only the full stops allowing the narrator to grab a quick breath before launching into the next line like the nervous child forced to read in front of the class. As a set opener it is unusual, but anyone expecting the norm tonight is probably in the wrong place. Where else tonight are you going to hear a floppy-haired artist sing about how he doesn't get it that girls like him when he's probably gay or impotent? Or where else tonight could you see a 'low budget video' as Jeff incorporates his drawing talent into the set, abandoning the microphone and instead loudly singing a story a capella to accompany the pictures he has drawn of finding a detached red hand that belongs to a multi-limbed monster and subsequently helping it to murder people in exhange for food and a place to live? It’s unashamedly weird, lo-fi sci-fi but what did you expect from the man who was signed on the recommendation of the Moldy Peaches? Don’t worry though intellectuals, later he will do the same thing with the history of communist Russia from 1900, and quite comprehensively too.
When Jeff actually does get round to playing what passes for a 'traditional' style of song (y’know.. with guitars and stuff), he does it so quietly and with such reserve that it’s a struggle to hear his fragile tones in some places. Sounding like a cross between Adam Green from the aforementioned ‘Peaches, with a touch of Bob Dylan and some Mountain Goats for good measure, already-tender songs like ‘_Singing Tree’ and ‘New Old Friends’ are hushed even further - volume is no real issue though, as the crowd is quiet anyway so as to hear the lyrics of each story. This quiet matters less when the Jeff Lewis Band rear their heads, as the delicacy and sensitivity become a distant memory and old-fashioned punk takes over in the spirit of The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and Richard Hell (who form part of the 'History of the Development of Punk on the Lower East Side 1950 – 1975' from Jeff Lewis’ comic Fuff #1). Jeff and Jack often share main vocals; Jeff taking a more controlled tone as his younger brother goes off on a tangent. ‘Time Machine’ sees them yelling different years over the top of each other, before congregating in the verses and chorus, singing the same lines before splitting again. Similarly, they sing the same lyrics on ‘Posters’, two slightly different voices in shambolic stereo sound. It’s discordant and it’s rough, unlikely to impress anyone judging the show on technical merit, but its feel-good nature is infectious.
As old favourite ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ closes the set and Jack screams “she said my arm was made out of shit!” to a room of vaguely puzzled but largely smiling faces, the closing applause lasts for minutes as the unlikely heroes get what they deserve for whisking us away to their bizarre, care-free land for forty-something minutes. Who needs a Turner prize?
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