Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto
“These are classic songs you just don’t know yet”, remarks Ezra Furman during his intimate appearance at Liverpool’s wonderful club venue on Seel Street. During a twenty-five song set, the Chicago native throws in every song from his new record Transangelic Exodus, but any unfamiliarity with the material does not diminish the impact this most fervent of performers clearly has on the audience this evening.
The album demonstrates a significant shift in focus, artistically and personally for Furman. Where earlier material was possibly too enthralled by the influences that inspired it, Transangelic Exodus feels like a singular entity, in possession of a unique flavour, fashioned and exposed by an artist finally comfortable with his aesthetic ambitions. As if to demonstrate this shift, his band has undergone a metaphorically significant name change as The Boy Friends have been remodeled into The Visions and they subtly open proceedings with the jazzy From a Beach House. The convulsive Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 At Goodwill follows and Furman lurches through the song, possessed, battling the demons in his head along with those damned government agents he’s on the run from. Contextualizing the record, Furman has explained that, “the narrative thread is I’m in love with an angel, and a government is after us, and we have to leave home because angels are illegal, as is harbouring angels.” The outcome of this love affair is not conclusive thus far and Haunted Head provides an interlude from this pursuit as Furman momentarily transforms into a vividly contemporary Starman before our eyes. This injection of colour quickly withdraws however, to be replaced by the coursing percussion and hallucinatory panic of No Place. Ezra Furman’s nasal vocals and vivid visual flourishes have often been compared against others, but the nightmarish No Place is the first time I’ve been prompted to measure the songwriter’s vocal and creative abilities alongside John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. Darnielle is quite simply one of the greatest American songwriters of his generation and based on the evidence, he has some new company.
As we’re exposed to more of Transangelic Exodus’s material, the complexity and innovation inherent in its presentation becomes intoxicating. God Lifts Up the Lowly’s dramatic cello appears to be at odds with the harsh synths that punctuate the song, but they eventually merge, coexisting in harmony in Furman’s lucid, dreamscape. What becomes apparent during this presentation is the significant departure Furman’s new material demonstrates when compared to tracks from 2013’s Day of the Dog in particular. Although Anything Can Happen, which is followed by And Maybe God is a Train rattle along in thrilling in fashion, blessed with a timeless quality that is ultimately a lot of fun, it is the artistic integrity found in songs like Come Here, Get Away From Me that really resonate. Lurching amidst the dark shadows of our lives, it’s a film noir for the 21st century and Ezra Furman is the femme fatale who sneers menacingly that “I suck all the life out of everything I see, I drink a bottle of wine… I’ve got the digital content blues!” After the grisly macabre of songs such as this, My Zero actually begins to sound quite quaint.
The brilliantly taut Love You So Bad and the symbolic Suck the Blood from My Wound demonstrate Furman’s innate ability to generate angry, jarring melodies that still make you smile and the cries for his return are deafening when he leaves the stage after Tip of the Match. And return he does, but this is not an artist just paying lip service to a concept. This is what an encore is supposed to be like. Six effervescent songs including a wonderfully atmospheric cover of Hounds of Love conclude an evening which has introduced us all to the real Ezra Furman.
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