Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts @ Hare and Hounds, 12 October, 2017

Every single time that Jeffrey Lewis and one of his bands have been in the same town as myself… I’ve been otherwise engaged, so tonight was the night that I’d finally get to watch him perform his music, poetry-metred lyrical delivery and cartoon presented backdrop. I first came across Jeffrey Lewis while floating around the weird end of YouTube watching something like “Ukulele Covers of Crass”. Coming across his covers album of “Twelve Crass Songs” was a revelation. A new spin on songs much loved by myself. A dry, sardonic delivery with the lyrics spat out with clear diction. This hooked me at first hearing. So here I was tonight on a cold Tuesday night looking forward to getting the cockles of me heart proper warmed.

Support came from Coventry band, Duck Thieves, who at a guess are more than a little involved in the arts beyond music. Performance art, acting… circus performance even? Bookended by two performing backing singers is Justin Wing Chung Hui. Drums and bass take a backseat but provide a strong base for what is some impressive guitar playing from Justin. Flashes of rockin’ guitar licks interspace understated rhythm whilst the excellent backing singers act out performances in keeping with the songs. It makes sense when you see it live. Honest.

The band self-describe themselves as influenced by Sparks and B52s which isn’t a bad starting point. I’d go as far as to throw a little bit of the punky disco of The Go! Team in there too! Now I’m not given to dancing without a few beers but these guys made me want to dance enough in sobiety to try to make the effort to see them again and so should you!

So, on to the main event. A veritable feast of angst, both teen through to early middle-age, of dissection of relationships, laughter, empathy, history lessons and a hundred other feelings and subjects. Jeffrey Lewis introduces the band with a genuine offered “and it’s always a pleasure to be back in Birmingham” as the opener draws to a close.

The next has a slightly psychedelic feel to it with beautiful laidback swirling keyboards and reverb guitar. It’s a departure from the Jeffrey Lewis that I know but this is part of his appeal. It glides to a halt with glistening cymbals. He immediately falls into a poetry reading that probably sums up the feelings of so many of us here tonight as it tells how much he loves music and bounces between opposing styles because he “wants it both ways”. Following is a glorious rendition of “Posters” that brings to mind the glory days of DIY and fly postings.

A strange thing happened to me a few days earlier as I returned home from watching the recent visit of Shellac to Birmingham. On the train sat over the aisle were two ‘regular’ middle aged couples talking music when one of them brought up the little known 90s comedy Punk band, Wat Tyler. That band had a rather drab and dull song on their second album called “History of The Soviet Union Part 1 – October”. Now you may wonder why that might be relevant. Well strangely enough a few days later I’m watching Jeffrey Lewis present a song called “Complete History of Communism part 7”, on a backdrop using his cartoon artwork. An history lesson presented with a smile and using drums, keyboard and cartoon! Just brilliant. The backdrop is used again to brilliant cartoonistic effect in the rather excellent “Cannibal Monkeys”. I cannot spoil this through weak description for anyone in case they take the opportunity to experience Jeffrey Lewis for themselves.

“Bugs and Flowers” is a laidback finger-picked song that equates people with insects and flowers and how we all will turn to dust. It’s a beautiful humanist song that makes me think of the futility of life yet how beautiful it is. And these are the songs of Jeffrey Lewis – they mix hope and positivity with futility and self-deprecation, humour with a tinge of sadness, empathy for others with a sometimes selfish introversion.

Classical rock music was his “gateway drug to buying vinyl” is a story told in the excellent “I caught the disease for LPs” which will resound with many readers of this site and that’s the thing with Jeffrey Lewis. He has that rare ability that truly gifted performers have, that he can make a connection at some point and at some level, with everyone in the audience. If you or your experiences don’t match what he’s singing about then just wait for the next song. For me I get something from most of the songs and the next one more than many. A throbbing rendition of Crass’ “Do They Owe Us A Living” that just falls from the stage in an unstoppable flow of words. An impressive cover of one of the more important Punk bands.

As the set comes to an end we find out that one of Jeffrey’s favourite English words is “chuffed”, as he declares that he is “chuffed that my brother Jack could join us on tour”. The band follow a few tour stories with “Time Trades”, another favourite of mine that approaches the passing of time philosophically and leaves you with a fresh outlook on life.

A raccous rendition of “Time Machine” from his third album, a safe yet excellent introduction for the curious, uninitiated amongst you, is followed by “Sad Screaming Old Man”. The next sees Jeffrey go acoustic which he dedicates to local heroes and personal friends, Misty’s Big Adventure, and for anyone in a band, as he sings of the long on going issue of guest lists and the question of how long guestlisting should continue after a favour is given to the band.

There are a few more yet, that to my shame I do not recognise, and it’s a strong and long set from a tight band. I guess you can do that when you have such a breadth of songs. I leave a very happy guy clutching a CD whilst other scrabble to buy Jeffrey Lewis comic books, and I honestly can’t wait until he comes around again. Do yourself a favour and check him out and then next time…. come along and emotionally connect with fellow record collecting, comic reading geeks like us.

 

Reviewer: Mark Veitch

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