On Thursday night. Ezra Furman played the last show of his American West tour at the Teragram Ballroom, and he was on fire. But when it comes to pronouns, should I say he or she or they or it? A quick look at Ezra’s Twitter account shows that the non-binary singer-songwriter doesn’t care about such ‘details’ while his preoccupations are crucial and at the center of the human condition.
Bay-area musician Kelley Stoltz opened the night and told us that comedian Jeff Garlin, who was also on the bill, could not make it because ‘he was not feeling well’. Stoltz tried to make up for Garlin and played a few of his eclectic songs, featuring a range of catchy psych-pop songs. His music often sounded like timeless classics of a side of the ’70s & the ‘80s, as Ray Davies (during ‘Zonked’), Brian Wilson or even Todd Rundgren have been cited in reviews of his albums. While he is mostly a studio guy famous for his use of vintage machines such as the Tascam 388 and his work with musicians such as John Dwyer, the Fresh & Onlys and Sonny and the Sunsets, Stoltz had interesting dance-induced songs, and ‘Confidence brought’ a sexy dancefloor with funky guitars completed by an all-glitter vest and a saxophone. But the highlight of his set was certainly his last song, a cover of The Replacements’ ‘I Will Dare’, sung by Ezra himself, making his first apparition of the night.
The energy on display during the rest of the show was a beauty to witness, Ezra’s 21-song set was a battlefield of raw emotions and a series of heart explosions, while his unapologetic and furious protest songs, including plenty of cuts from his last album, ‘Twelve Nudes,’ worked like a sincere charge against the state of the world. That’s the deal with Ezra Furman, who comes on stage wearing black lipstick, a cute flowered dress, black stockings and matching loafers, it’s not just about him or her or the queer condition, it’s about the whole world, the refugees crisis, the poor and the rich, the climate crisis or any kind of crisis, as a matter of fact, his queer revolt becomes a global social revolt against any injustice, Ezra is angry, pissed off and if he only had one message, it would be, we have the duty to stay angry when looking at the state of the world in 2020.
Starting the show with one of his best-known punk anthems, ‘Suck the Blood from My Wound’, a detailed and metaphoric vision of his 2018 cinematic rock opera ‘Transangelic Exodus,’ Ezra gave the tone with a torn voice, forced to the point of breaking at any moment. Without even taking his breath, ‘Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone’ was played in a state of urgency and panic attack mode with that same raw anger mixed with glorious guitars, while the Rolling-Stones-Sympathy-For-The -evil-woo-woo sound effects sounded buried in sonic and body assaults.
It was almost funny to hear Ezra tell us: ‘This is how I feel in the USA in 2020, crazy shit paranoia, pure rage,’ before playing the song ‘Rated R Crusaders’ and its outbursts of bloody anger. ‘Now you get the landscape, fear, anger, anxiety, desperation,… now it can be a celebration as well,’ he added after the song.
‘My Zero’ brought back Kelley Stoltz on stage with a saxophone, in a moment praised by Ezra who immediately called it a positive thing before ‘bringing back deep negativity’… ‘It’s real, the insult to human’s dignity that you see, you are not imagining it!’ he continued in full pissed-off mode. He introduced the loud and sludgy dramatic riffs of ‘Trauma’ with a ‘There’s no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy’ as Henry Miller said,’ and the song almost sounded like a classic metal song while ‘My Teeth Hurt’ had the angsty battleground of a Titus Andronicus track and ‘Body Was Made’ the meandrous hypnotic quality of a Lou Reed tune.
‘Here are 2 songs about desperate people’, almost joked Ezra, dedicating ‘No Place’ to all the world refugees and ‘Transition From Nowhere To Nowhere’ to his personal landlord. As he did most of the night, he played the song with an enraged delivery, and some ‘white-guilt guitar’ – as seen written on the setlist, next to the songs. ‘Nobody cares if you’re dying ’til you’re dead’, repeated Ezra who was performing with a heartfelt abandon and terror attacks, while his bloody shrieks were working as an alarm… and why shouldn’t we already be alarmed by the state of the world?
After a furious ‘No Place’ performed with all the anxiety of the world weighing on his shoulders, and a ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ played ‘for the queers’, the punk scene partially faded away for the doo-wop romantic dancehall of ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’… but even then, Ezra’s transgender longing made him sound like an outlaw.
There often were some classic rock vibes in his moody despair and incendiary indignation, and honestly, there was not a moment when the crowd was not enthusiastically following each one of his angry despair and shattering energy. From his anthem for America (‘In America’), to his praise of failure ‘Love You So Bad’, Ezra was back to the frontline with the call to arms (and prayers) ‘Evening Prayer aka Justice,’ executed with pure ferocity and a battered but resilient voice, ‘Tonight you’ve got fire in your bloodstream / If your frail human heart is still pumping / Then make this one night you’ll remember’ were fiercely illustrating the night, while during the hot fury of the catchy ‘Thermometer,’ the world’s temperature was only matching his punk fever.
The encore brought a cover of the Clash, ‘Police On My Back’, and as Ezra was appropriating the classics with ease, the song became the perfect expression of his queer punk revolt, whereas the furious ‘What Can You Do but Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was summing things up once for all,
During the entire performance, Ezra Furman’s punk scream was loud and raw, a rebellion was running in his veins, social injustice was at the center of his disgust, and the show, all fists in the air, was exploding in ferocious anxiety and chaos. The enemy was everywhere, the entire world was hostile, and Ezra was burning bright, he was a band in the run, looking for that possible narrow escape with a bare-faced freedom.
Suck the Blood from My Wound
Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone
Rated R Crusaders
My Zero (featuring Kelley)
My Teeth Hurt
Body Was Made (‘Some Kinda Love’ version)
Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere
Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill
I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend
Love You So Bad
Tip of a Match
Evening Prayer aka Justice
On Your Own
Police on My Back (The Equals /The Clash cover)
What Can You Do but Rock ‘n’ Roll
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