For some reason Ezra Furman’s reputation as a more folky indie rocker persists to this day, certainly among people who checked out of the songwriter’s career during the period with The Harpoons. And then perhaps transferring that impression onto Furman’s early solo albums. But this performance wasn’t the kind of thing you leave with any impression other than Furman is a fiery and charismatic singer and guitarist whose passion and conviction is imbued with an irresistible righteousness of purpose and deep compassion for the tender and vulnerable sides of anyone that has ever had to deal with the persecution of a society and culture that too often denies full humanity to various groups of people that are dismissed as a minority group. With rising worldwide fascism it was the kind of show that felt like a solid strike against that poisonous ideology and an act of rebellion completely embodied in the energy of the music.
Australian singer-songwriter Grace Cummings opened the show with her full band. Anyone that got to hear any bit of Cummings’ 2022 album Storm Queen may have rightfully expected a fiery performer with a gritty voice and larger than life presence. The Cummings in person seemed extremely personable and authentic with a dry and self-effacing sense of humor. But that in no way undercut her raw power as a vocalist and musician whether she was playing guitar or sitting at the piano. There was a magnetic command of the material that was both vulnerable and nuanced and thrillingly powerful. Evidently due to health issues the band was a tiny bit off their game but having no frame of reference it sure didn’t seem like anything was missing from the performance and if one has to imagine a flaw it’s that you could tell Cummings and the band would grow and refine and hone their performance and the precision with which it delivered the material in ways not yet created.
A song-by-song or strictly linear breakdown of the Ezra Furman set wouldn’t do justice to the impact of the performance. The energy was like seeing a legendary rockabilly artist from decades ago that discovered punk in their later years and embraced the raw vitality of that music completely and plugged it into a body of superior musicianship and songwriting and took that challenge to write songs about life from the perspective of someone who had to live on the edge, on the boundaries of polite society because one’s authentic self isn’t ready for prime time. But no one’s life, presented with absolute honesty even emotionally is really built for dissection and scrutiny in order to pass judgment based on a questionable barometer of morality. Something about these songs gave one the sense that Furman had long ago figured out that rock and roll and thus a liberated human spirit isn’t something that fits neatly into a box crafted by people who seek a very narrow and specific sense of psychic comfort based on a sense of existence and identity that can feel like a straightjacket to most people if they’re not trying to conform in order to benefit from a fragile power dynamic that would collapse if it faced any real resistance.
Songs came from across Furman’s solo catalog including cuts from the forthcoming All Of Us Flames (which releases August 26, 2022) like “Forever In Sunset,” “Book Of Our Names” and “Point Me Toward The Real.” The studio versions of the songs are like a modern take on a fusion of R&B and Lou Reed. Live the material felt like anthems aimed to blow open a door to personal liberation because Furman didn’t skimp on the intensity and what felt like off the cuff yet punk spiritual banter between songs. Maybe the fact that Furman is a trans woman gave the show some of its edge but really the material and Furman’s presence as someone delivering insightful emotional truth rooted in a reality informed and driven by deep personal experiences but which flowed forth as uplifting. There was a basic level of human solidarity one felt from Furman that isn’t always there at a rock show and Furman’s willingness to put herself full into committing to a premise of seizing one’s own power and ability to connect with people to remind them of their own humanity and interconnectedness with community was impossible to ignore or miss.
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