Ezra Furman has been just a little busy of late. The singer/songwriter and seriously original performer, supported by his versatile and seamless backing band, the deliciously christened “Boyfriends” has been dazzling audiences across the US (plus one Toronto stop) en route to the UK and Europe for sold out, well-received shows on a head-spinning schedule over the course of the fall touring the new album “Perpetual Motion People”. The titles are evocative: “Can I Sleep in Your Brain” “Body Was Made” “Lousy Connection” and cue a talented wordsmith and wit who does not disappoint.
We were lucky enough to catch Furman on the Toronto stop, which happened to be during a very historic national weekend: the eve of the biggest and most passionately discussed federal election in a decade. Each of the artists on the bill that night made reference to the news of the day, which unusually, captured the spirit and focus of the young, the apathetic middle aged, as well as the seasoned voter. Ezra weighed in too, on this, his first visit to Hogtown. Picking up on the energy of the nation and the room, he stepped forward to offer to run for Prime Minister. By the end of the show, I think it would have been a landslide win for the American.
If you are lucky and involved enough in your music scene, willing to spend freely and are discerning and diligent, you may be able to earn one revolutionary moment in the live scene per year. It may be when you finally see the universally underrated guitar god who wrote the soundtrack of your entire youth before you. It may be when you see the gorgeous, singular, band you’ve been listening to for decades and find that outside of the compressed format you’ve let become the norm of home “audio” they are earth-shattering and life-changing- hiding your tears because the music live has the power to, as one YouTube commenter said “make you see how beautiful the world could be.”
Finding that kick in new artists who are unknown to you is a much rarer thing. There needs to be a bit of, I’m sorry, but kismet. You have to be there to hear the words and music, and be able to tune out all the noise around you (and in you). But that’s exactly what happened upon seeing Ezra Furman. We’ve hesitated to write as it seems futile, beside the point. In this world, you really have to be there. But you can be there.
Ezra is a slight figure and it was a small and densely packed stage during which the course of an hour or so, both the man and the stage and the feelings swelled to the size of a stadium. So this is what “they” talk about when they talk about that long gone-you’ll never get to know-era of early 70’s punk & glam. Of those that leave it all on the stage, that are born to perform and to share their art and that defy the cynical age of unreality and digital nonsense in which we’ve allowed ourselves to, not live, but, rather exist. This must be why Iggy’s gigs are still legendary, why The Ramones still shimmer, untouchable even as ignorant children defile their greatest of all the great logos, why we still mourn Joe Strummer so sincerely to this day. What makes Lou’s stature grow even after his passing, as the Velvets are cast into priceless platinum. This is what my beloved John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig was trying to shake us all into remembering in 2001. What many of us stoics spend years in dingy clubs losing our hearing, paying our dues by the import bottle to hope to find. We are romantics, you see. Treasure-hunters. Behind our detached big city eyes, we are aching to lose this ridiculous false front. And so we do.
Ezra falls, stepping into a gap on the small stage, then, turning the tables on any discomfort or embarrassment of falling, climbs into the hole. Disappears behind a monitor seamlessly like the kid who always won at hide and seek. But the song, and his singing, continues. Here, his band drops their chilled out facade ever-so-slightly, for the only time. They are used to Ezra’s wildness and rawness, they are his boyfriends who will catch him when he falls, even if he takes down a keyboard on the way. The saxophone player’s eyebrow raises and one eye drops to the place we last saw Ezra, for a few beats. It’s touching and it’s real. Aside from the band, only the front rows even know this has happened. By now, Furman has already sung about going down deep into the ocean, about wanting, and longing, and has shared with us identity questions that the best artists communicate as questions each one of us who are alive ought to ask, even outside of all the gender bias or norms we’ve been told to aspire to (and within those questions). Here is your hero, all my freaks and geeks and queers of all types. And he’s real.
A lot of the musical comparisons are lacking (or fail totally) as each are themselves total individuals (as is Ezra Furman) so I’ll tip a hat to my literature student roots and those who tread there instead and tell you that what I saw most of all was an artist with the ability to embody the Trickster of Magical Realism, which is really the modern variant of all of that legacy of musical creativity of eras before. Trying to capture the moment of the Furman gig the following day, I wrote, bombastically, “Nothing written or photographed or recorded can ever be worth one damn vs what happened in that room, in the often small, intimate rooms where real magic happens once in a great while but for what it’s worth, I happened to have a brilliant photographer with me, and Iggy Pop is a fan of this music.” I stand by my still-high on the experience Facebook post.
Ezra Furman is a true artist who uses the too often messy and exploitative world of public social media rather well and cordially but sparingly which is not easy for younger artists to do (Ezra is 29). Being reserved in this medium is a welcome throwback that is rather a bold move for younger artists. It is also essential, it seems to me, for an artist’s growth to be able to keep as much private space as possible, to leave us wanting more, and not have their walls so encroached. In turn, we owe it to him to fly that flag in the way we would have only a decade ago and certainly, would have done instinctively in decades past. Without picking the man, the human, the art, or even the love to pieces, but to leave some mystery there, to wait, to line up, to see the gig, to lay back and let the album wash over you, and to let it all (and the artist) breathe. You can see and feel this music right now in all sorts of interesting, intimate, usual spaces. As it’s meant to be for those who got there first. Music like this is one of the most encouraging and inspiring things to come along in a decade, alongside (but not at all musically like) The Strokes, The White Stripes, Sufjan Stevens, The National, Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett, and all the other originals in bold names or small type who’ve given you lightening bolts of hope. Breathe. Feel. Love. Give.
Ezra Furman (& the Boyfriends) are touring through the US & many key cities Europe through March 2016. Catch them if you can.
An Interview with Ezra Furman
Step On Magazine:What were you listening to this year?
Ezra Furman: So much. Sparklehorse, Cat Power, tUnE-yArDs, Fiona Apple, Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens, Low Cut Connie, Krill, Tristen, the Misfits, Nina Simone, the Mountain Goats, Titus Andronicus. Endless list. Those are just what came to mind immediately.
SO:What are your highlights of the year?
EF: We put out an album that I’m really proud of. It’s called Perpetual Motion People. We also played some really great shows. I wrote some good songs that I’m eager to share with you.
A lot of great albums came out this year. Krill, Sufjan Stevens and Kendrick Lamar all put out stunning work.
SO: What’s ahead for for your projects in the next six months?
EF: The book series 33 and a third just accepted my proposal to write a book about the album Transformer by Lou Reed. I’m really excited to write it. It will be over a year until it comes out but I’ll be hard at work.
We’ve also got a little bit of new music—not a whole album, just a little—we’re almost ready to release it. We’re still figuring it out. I’m hoping it comes out in the next six months.
SO: Do you have a prediction for 2016?
EF: I predict the end of all war and poverty.
SO: What is your perfect Sunday?
EF: I just got off of a really long tour, so right now my answer is just staying at home and listening to music and making food and being happy.
SO: What do you do on tour with 4 hours off in a new city?
EF: I love walking around in an area I know nothing about. It’s kind of stupid because I could probably do more with my time if I looked things up and got recommendations of where to go. But I just love being a little bit lost and not knowing what I might come across. I love being an outsider full of wonder in a new place.
SO: What are you reading (when you get 30 minutes to yourself?)
EF: I’ve been trying to read Swann’s Way by Proust. It’s really hard and I might not finish but it’s so good. I also read the weekly Torah portion all the time. And I’m working my way through the whole Hebrew Bible, getting to the lesser known parts, checking out the B-sides.
By Jacqueline Howell. With very special thanks to Ezra Furman.