The contrast between the sharp suited, sober, headliner Ezra Furman and the dishevelled, wasted, bottom of the bill Daniel Lefkowitz could not be greater but it is the latter who transforms the former’s set by jumping on stage and haranguing the audience. But let’s rewind.
The Cavern is not misnamed. You descend steps into an area about the size of my wine cellar. You can’t buy tickets in advance; they don’t issue them. You hand over your money to the bar staff and they write your name down and you hope that when you turn up your name is still on the list. Luckily mine still was. To say the venue is laid back is like saying Gangbang Gertie is laid back. Last time I was here, I walked into the venue to see Six By Seven and no one bothered to check anything. Tonight people wander into the venue with Subway meals they have purchased down the road and eat them in full view of the bar staff.. Coming from London, where venues are policed like going through airport security, I welcome this.
If you read this shambles of a blog, you will hopefully realise that I don’t really keep up with current trends but I do recognise quality. Daniel Lefkowitz is quality. The voice is quality. The guitar playing is quality. More importantly, the songwriting is quality. He is also something of a perfectionist stopping mid song to tune his guitar and then continuing as if nothing had happened. Lefkowitz is a former member of The Low Anthem and, judging by his barbed, between song comments about band mates deserting him, also an ex member of Futur Primitif. He warns the audience that the CD selling on the merchandise stall will only have one of the songs on it that he is playing tonight. The warning is unnecessary. Many of his songs seem to address the homogenisation of America and are rich in melody and nuance. It seems fitting that, of the fifty people here, to my left stands Ezra Furman watching approvingly and to my right a woman who opens her bag to take out a full size bottle of Absolut vodka from which she starts drinking. Musicianship and excess seem to be at the heart of Lefkowitz’s muse.
The next band, The Black Tambourines, have three major handicaps: they’re not black, they don’t play tambourines and they’re shit.
Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends come onto the stage and launch straight into “I Wanna Destroy Myself.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “And Maybe God Is a Train.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively with the exception of one woman who comes to the front of the stage to dance. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “Caroline Jones.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively although the young woman is now joined in her dancing by a refreshed Daniel Lefkowitz. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends play “Slacker Adria.” The crowd stand back and nod appreciatively. By the end of the song, Lefkowitz has had enough. He leaps onstage to address the audience telling them it doesn’t matter what they look like, they have to get closer to the stage and dance. He leaps off stage and starts physically pushing people to the front. This rather direct approach has its effect. Furman digs back to his old Harpoons incarnation and delivers a gorgeous version of “Mysterious Power” during which he also shoehorns in a verse of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” Finally we have a gig with an audience. Furman relaxes, although when talking to the audience he still comes across as a more diffident David Byrne, and grows into the performance. There is a brand new song, “Little Piece of Trash’, he claims to have written that very afternoon; a gorgeous “Queen of Hearts”; another Harpoons’ song “Take Off Your Sunglasses” that has him at the lip of the stage striking the best rock star poses he can manage; a cover of The Marvelettes “Please Mr Postman; and, of course, the double whammy of “My Zero” and “Anything Can Happen.” As an encore he appears alone with an acoustic guitar for a sparse and moving version of “Wild Feeling.”
At one point tonight, Furman put on sunglasses and said, “It’s a night for clowns.” The only clowns tonight were those citizens of Exeter who stayed at home.