Live review: Jeffrey Lewis

first_imgEarlier this year New York anti-folkster Jeffrey Lewis recorded a covers album based on the work of the British anarcho-punk band Crass. Incongruous as it sounded, the resulting album turned out to be a superb collection of intriguing re-interpretations. Oxford’s Exeter Hall was lucky enough to see the last night of the resulting UK tour. After Noah and the Whale’s lovely set of folky shuffling answers the question of what Beirut would sound like if Zach Condon had never visited Eastern Europe, we are treated to the arrival of Jeffrey’s uncle. The academically dubious ‘Professor’ Louie is a grizzled Brooklyn street poet who offers us cautionary tales of ‘cock-a-roaches’ and ‘corporate powah’ before it’s time for his nephews. Jeffrey shuffles on with brother Jack and his band the Jitters. Jeffrey cuts an understated, geeky figure on stage. Surprisingly, given his penchant for lyrical wordiness, he doesn’t interact with the crowd much, which creates something of a barrier in such a small venue. His music predominantly engages with the brain rather than the heart, and the combination of these two factors lead to a low-key atmosphere that settles and spreads like an autumn mist, pervading the evening. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. The band are energetic, though they’d benefit from a violin to round out their sound. The Crass section of the show, including the particularly rousing ‘I Ain’t Thick’, is played in front of video footage sent in by fans of fireworks, war and home-made animations. Lewis makes regular use of multimedia, and the two comedic highlights are his illustrated story of Champion Jim and his salad-based nemesis Celery Sam, and part 4 of an endearingly earnest series ambitiously entitled ‘The Complete History of Communism.’The band then launches into the most crowd-pleasing section of the show, starting with ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’, Lewis’ masterwork. A literate, witty, hyper-self-aware exploration into the consciousness of alternative art, it’s the greatest song ever written about being violated by an alt.country legend. The band and audience finally coalesce, as ‘Posters’, an anthemic version of ‘No LSD Tonight’  and the ex-girlfriend baiting ‘Another Girl’ give the gig a celebratory finale.By Carl Cullinanelast_img read more