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“This is probably the biggest headline show we've ever done”
Jeffrey Lewis might have taken a while to climb the mountain, but he's getting near the peak now. Think of it more as a gentle amble than the hype helicopter giving you a lift to the top. Fans seem to have spread by word of mouth, a growing cult of fey individuals in love with Jeff's deprecating lyrics and antifolk leanings. And now, in case the above quote didn't clue you in, comes his biggest shows ever, headlining The Scala.
Before the show Mr Lewis mills about chatting with fans in his affable way, while brother Jack tends to the extensive merchandise stand. No one seems to have the heart to tell him his T-shirt is on inside out. He later dons the stage, following a set of wheeling multi-instrumental folk from Johnny “my stepbrother's Jerome, but keep it quiet, yeah?” Flynn, label out and proud.
It serves a metaphor for his music, and the gig. Slightly haphazard, preoccupied. Intent on exposing the underside, and the inside. The set tonight mixes material new and old, demonstrating the continuity, and the welcome lack of progress, in the music since its fully formed arrival all those records ago. The only surprise of the gig comes with the appearance of Jane's Addiction's 'Been Caught Stealing' to start the encore, seeing it transformed from alt rock anthem into a sweet strum. Did anyone else in the audience shoplift on the way home? Just me?*
The lack of novelty is undoubtedly a good thing. This live show has been honed over hundred of performances (not that you'd be able to tell. Lo fi flows through this band's veins). Why mess with what works?
There are a few alterations from what is on record, but they work well. Some songs are stretched out & given space, or altered, with the droning tribal intro to 'The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane' of particular note. Gang Gang Dance might be quaking in their desert boots. Probably not though. These re-jigs help break up the formula “couple of punky ones, then an acoustic one”, much like what the low budget videos do (tonight we get the inspiring 'Champion Jim', and the informative 'History Of Communism in Korea').
New track 'I Couldn't Take It Anymore' (which Jeff announces as “another song about suicide”) trades in the typical mercurial wordplay, and then doubles it. Triples it maybe. It shows mighty promise for whatever the next record may be.
Jeff surely wins an award for most ill-advised improvised section of a gig, when he tries to make his shiny new phone blow up by having the whole audience call it at once. This, of course, involves giving out your number to 800 of your most dedicated fans. Whether that phone has now been discarded remains unknown. It's got to at least be on silent, or he'd walk round sounding like a portable Ann Summers emporium.
The crowd, as is London's want, remain statuesque throughout, barely reacting when tracks like 'They Always Knew They'd Make It ' and 'Slogans' are deployed with vim and vigour, Jeff and Jack dancing around with grins painted across their faces showing their joy on stage. The wide smiles are reflected on the faces of every member of the audience on the way out. Jeff closes in on the summit.
*Did not happen.
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