25th June | Exchange
Photos: Duncan Cruickshank
The Exchange is sold out and it happened very quickly. Jeffrey Lewis is here and within the first five minutes you may be reminded of the Hunter S Thompson quote, “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production,” because it sums him up so well.
Many artists ooze creativity and purvey how they suffer for it, but Jeffrey Lewis just revels in it. Making his appearance on stage in a gloriously unspectacular manner, you could mistake him for the sound man as he tinkers with his pedals under a baseball cap. But as he plays the opening bars of ‘Krongu Green Slime’, there is a transfixed reverence as he immediately strikes a connection with his ‘personal feeling’ delivery, melancholy tone and pithy surrealist wit. The almost magical presence he has once he begins singing is remarkable.
Old classics such as ‘Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song’ and ‘The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane’ make an appearance, but have a freshness in their performance as he includes additional ad libs and comical pauses which make them all the more captivating.
Sold-out gigs often cultivate a passive-aggressive elbow cold war, as we stand far closer together than Britishness permits. However this is noticeably absent on the night as people dance and smile at one another, often laughing along with the stories, most noticeably during the new track ‘My Girlfriend Doesn’t Worry’, where he describes the ruminations of a man having a silent existential crisis. The crisis fills each sprawling verse before he decides not to mention it as, “she’ll just think I’m annoying.”
The gig runs in patchwork fashion, with the rest of the band joining in for more standard rock/punk tunes like ‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’ which fill the gaps, also including covers by acts such as Iron Maiden and the Beastie Boys. These fail to stand out among the rest of the performance. But when you have a slideshow of the history of Cuba narrated to the rhythm section or a flip chart of cartoons drawn to the lyrics of songs from Nirvana’s Bleach album such as ‘Big Cheese’ featuring a giant cheese assembling a man and sending him to the office, it’s an understandable challenge.
The overall performance feels a little as if it’s being planned as it’s played and as it ends, Jeffrey looks at his watch and realises he has time for one more song and so squeezes another in. There are few performers which such a complete lack of pretension and as his band leaves the stage, he starts casually chatting with the crowd as if he was part of the audience. The poetic skill and sheer mass of lyrics delivered throughout the night cannot be understated, but he seems to take it in his stride before heading back to the merch desk and his vast array of comics and albums. The evening overall felt more like a house party put on by one of the shy guys at uni, where he picked up a guitar and surprised us all with a hidden talent.
See the video for ‘Back To Manhattan’ here: