Thursday 3 November 2011

Jeffrey Lewis at Heaven - 2 November 2011

Jeffrey Lewis

I arrive at the venue and am immediately taken aback. The place is absolutely rammed solid, a heaving mass of checked shirts and unfortunate facial hair.

The opening act , Seth Faergolzia (ex of Dufus) is just doing his final two songs. Judging by these I’m eternally grateful that we didn’t get here earlier and saddened that I didn’t arrive fifteen minutes later.

We edge nearer the front. An extremely nervous and uncertain girl with an acoustic guitar shuffles onstage. This is Alessi Laurent-Marke (aka ‘Alessi’s Ark’) and I have rarely seen anyone so unprepared and out of their comfort zone.

It doesn’t help that this venue in a converted railway arch tends to suck sound into the void above our heads, and this, coupled with her weak voice and lack of presence means that not only does Alessi fail to engage, but she has to keep stopping and apologising. It’s a pretty excruciating sight.

It is sad to say that her entire act depends upon the expectation that an audience will be tolerant of a simpering girl listlessly strumming a guitar and bringing very little to the party. Such environments may exist, but this isn’t one of them. If she wasn’t so lacking in any kind of spark, you’d feel sorry for her.

Jeffrey Lewis has become a pretty big act these days, which I’m sure surprises him as much as anyone. When he and his current band appear, they are welcomed with whoops and squeals of delight more appropriate to Justin Bieber.

Frankly, Jeff doesn’t look at his best this evening. He seems frazzled and exhausted and he is going to have to address the issue of his receding hairline sometime soon – a lank and greasy comb-forward is not a cool style and doesn’t even cover the gaps. Embrace the razor, Jeff, and you’ll be liberated!

He is joined tonight by his brother Jack and also by the lovely Nan Turner, moonlighting from her regular band Schwervon.

Jeff’s new album “A Turn in the Dream-Songs” is given a hefty push this evening. The songs fit seamlessly alongside his earlier work and his talent for witty, clever and self-deprecating lyrics that focus on his own predicaments (“Cult Boyfriend”) or which tell bizarre stories (“Krongu Green Slime”), is well to the fore.

The band are energetic and tight, but as with the support act, they don’t seem to quite cope with the cavernous acoustics in here.

Jeff also treats to several of his trademark illustrated story songs. Tonight, we get a tale of an alien inventor and a history of the life of Marco Polo, Jeff crouched on the floor, beaming images onto a sheet at the back of the stage.

The old material is not entirely forgotten and Jeff plays a bravura rendition of (shall we call it a classic?) “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror”.

The crowd lap it up and you get the impression that if it wasn’t for pressure from the venue’s management, who want us out so that they can get a club night started, that Jeff and co would play all night.

So we get an encore of the silly “Mosquito Rap” and one last illustrated story detailing the adventures of “The Creeping Brain”.

This has been Jeffrey Lewis’ biggest ever London show and I don’t think that it has been entirely comfortable. His charm and ingenuity are ideally suited to intimate spaces and I don’t think that he has quite adapted to a more amplified, less forgiving sphere of operations.

However, Jeff is amongst friends here tonight. And every time that he plays, he makes more.

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