– THE DEAF INSTITUTE, MANCHESTER –
Cult hero Jeffrey Lewis returns to Manchester on a bitterly cold and wet night. The disposition he brings with him from across the pond is a warm and welcoming one, just what is needed for what is a restless, majorly male orientated crowd in attendance at The Deaf this evening – a mass of array of comic book geeks and nerds alike with the odd mad, shouty lad thrown in. It is an interesting mix; the lads are no doubt a hangover from the band Crass, the quite angry punk band from the seventies of which JL is a big fan and often plays covers from his album 12 Crass Songs (as the title suggests, they are reworkings of Crass’ songs in JL’s own style) at his gigs.
For each tour JL has a different backing band, on this tour he is backed by the excellent Los Bolts on bass and guitar – incidentally the bassist is the absolute spit of SOAK, I’m convinced for half the night that he actually is.
Lewis is a definite lyrical master as is evident on songs like ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’ a song about a chance encounter that may or may not have happened on the subway in which he squeezes in so many lyrics into lines without making them feel forced, it actually flows better the more words he squashes in. And ‘The thing I love most about England’ – a homage to his love of English food that seems to leave the crowd simmering with delight.
The next highlight has Lewis ducking out of view and asking us to cast our eyes beyond the band, projected on the back wall is one of his comics that tell an enlightening and humorous story of the road to Vietnam’s independence, with Lewis’ guidance of song. Later he takes us through another comic that shows the journey of self realisation that he may not be a hippy anymore and just another guy who looks like everyone – it’s equally as funny as the Vietnam comic but also touching and actually a little sad seeing a little journey of self acceptance and letting go of the past all in a few minutes. The visuals of the comics have the ability to draw the emotional from the song that perhaps, on their own, the songs could not do.
It’s fair to say that Lewis is more a punk poet than performer. He harnesses the spirit of Lou Reed into his lyrics; a moody and occasionally grumpy gaze into his daily trudge through life. This is generally quite controlled on his records but in the live performance his stream of consciousness manifests itself battered and bruised but kept under just enough control to save it from being a mess.
At the end, I go up and shake his hand. He’s very humble and thanks me for coming to the show. Then he jumps up from his pedals and is straight over to the merch stand to flog, I hope, many a comic and CD to fans who I imagine probably already own everything he has to sell, but it’s a sign of a great artist to have such dedicated and adoring fans. I look forward to seeing Lewis perform again and I hope he keeps touring as it’s always a pleasure.
Read the review on Silent Radio