July 14, 2024

Ezra Furman – Live In Leeds 2023 – “What can you do but rock and roll?”

Live at Belgrave Music Hall 30th August 2023

With a remarkable stage presence, Ezra Furman showed herself to be a must-see live. Her live performance eclipses the recorded work in every way; in energy and in visible determination. Even the loud Twelve Nudes doesn’t show how rock and roll Ezra is with her band, leaping about and flailing right the way through to the Patti Smith cover of the encore. Nor does it show the focussed commitment to her songs. Twisted arms, grimaces and between song comments show a drive to communicate her life, experience and beliefs, perhaps most strongly in ‘Come Close’, where she links the personal and political, giving snippets of queer life, where the names attached make it about people, not abstract concepts.

Tonight, she features plenty of her new album, ‘All Of Us Flames’, opening on ‘Train Comes Through’ and ‘Forever In Sunset’. The personal songs acquire an extra energy and the excellent band channel some of Furman’s more obvious influences from garage rock in ‘Calm Down’ to the Velvet Underground and on into girl groups of the sixties in ‘Dressed In Black’ – “I wrote this in 1961”, she quips. “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” is doo-wop about growing up thinking of being Esme and being your girlfriend. And the closing song ‘Tell Em All To Go To Hell’ is simple rockabilly. Yet, resplendent in an oversized Whitney Houston 1987 T-shirt that barely covers her dignity, Ezra is purely herself, hanging on the mic, thrashing her guitar or confiding between songs.

The band are excellent and the songs tight and well-structured, carrying us to where she needs us to be. At times vulnerable, at times urgently vital: all eyes focus on Ezra, who seems to magnetically draw attention.

More influences show in the power ballad, ‘Driving Down To LA’ but the even-more personal arrives in the solo slot. “The band are taking a union break. Actually, I want to play some quiet things; I get tired of drums”. She talks about being young and queer and sings of the power of giving the names of people broken by oppression. The personal over the political again. With the return of the band comes her Springsteen street ballad, ‘Lilac and Black’. There are a couple of slightly duller points in quieter ballads but a toilet break is welcome and ‘Love You So Bad’ signals a slam-bang of hits as the end approaches. “I really like this song. I made it up. It’s got 3 chords”, she smiles and the audience laughs.

The gig has concentrated on the new album and a few older ones but she goes unashamedly for the singalong favourites for the closing numbers and the crowd laps it up. A blur of motion, she and the other guitarist rip it up and the gig becomes a celebration of songs like ‘Evening Prayer’ and ‘Suck The Blood’. An encore of ‘Gloria’ from Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ isn’t strikingly Ezra’s but a simple nod of love to an inspirational woman that has always been true to her muse. While Ezra has a big message about being yourself and shares her life in song and speech, she finds herself in loud music. As she sang, ‘What can you do but rock and roll?’ And, tonight in the Belgrave Music Hall, we all agree.


Ross McGibbon

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