- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
Singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis is one of those artists that embodies’ the ‘indie spirit’. He released homemade cassettes in the late nineties, has made a number of albums for Rough Trade, championed underground music at every turn and has still found time to self-publish an ongoing comic book series. He’s in the UK touring with his band Los Bolts and tonight they roll into the iconic main room at The Brudenell Social Club.
There’s a man on stage dressed as an egg, telling us about his unorthodox approach to homemade comic book distribution; “They’re not on Marvel/ they’re not on DC/ They’re not on Penguin or on Bloomsbury/ I just get them printed up all by myself / and then I slip them quietly onto the bookshelf”.
I can’t think of a better band to open up for Jeffrey Lewis then The Vat-Egg Imposition. Led by singer and comic book artist Jonah L Stevenson, the Leeds-based 5-piece deliver a set of endearingly eccentric and ridiculously fun indie-punk. Buzzcocks-worthy tunes with a hefty dollop of Frank Sidebottom surrealism.
Reaching into a carrier bag wrapped around the mic stand, Stevenson throws a few bags of crisps into the audience. A gift and the ideal way to introduce the fantastically catchy ‘I Bought You Crisps’. ‘Last Rubicon Mango in Paris’ explores the perils of sugar-tax while the Fall-esque garage-rock of ‘You Don’t Understand Marmite’ is self-explanatory (well, kind of).
It helps, of course, that the songs are so freakin’ good. The kind of support act where, against all logic, you hope they come back for an encore. Plus, you can’t help but admire someone who can do a whole show dressed as an egg in this kind of humidity. A truly egg-cellent performance (sorry).
Next up, it’s down to Leeds/York 4-piece Crumbs to keep the party going. They play with plenty of energy from the start as vocalist Ruth Gilmore continuously dances to the bouncy twee-punk rhythms. Short, catchy songs about partying and heartbreak with a nice balance between pop-tastic punk and melancholic indie-jangle.
The brilliantly titled ‘Chaka Can’t’ might just be their finest moment, the kind of song that could effortlessly slip into a compilation of mid-eighties twee-punk. It’s a propulsive pop gem with an impossibly catchy chorus; “you’re the cock of the walk/ you’re the king of it all/ you’re the one/ you’re the one with the highest score”.
With such a huge back-catalogue you never know what song Jeffrey Lewis is going to start with. One thing’s for certain, I wasn’t expecting to hear a Shellac cover. Let alone, the brutal ‘Prayer to God’. With bassist Mem Pahl on vocal duties, the three-piece carry it off in style.
An anecdote about Herman Dune is followed by the folky, funny and melancholic ‘Do What Comes Naturally’. Jeff in a typically philosophical mood, “they say do what comes natural/ just be the real me/ follow the true you inside of your head/ but if I did what comes natural I’d just be a black hole/ I’d never get dressed or get out of bed”. It’s absolutely beautiful.
In his ongoing comic book series, Fuff, Lewis’ easel and a blank comic-book storyboard act as an anthropomorphised therapist to the artist and perpetual over-thinker. As well as being a rather brilliant comic it’s also a pretty solid metaphor for our relationship with art and music. Tonight acting as our collective therapy session.
Jeff feeds his trusty acoustic through various pedals as ‘Arrow’ moves from a gorgeous folky melody into a spine-tingling explosion of euphoric psychedelia. Those brilliant stream-of-consciousness lyrics being a Jeff Lewis speciality, of course. The punky ‘Depression! Despair!’ follows hot on its heels, Pahl and drummer Brent Cole adding some great call-and-response backing vocals.
Lewis is often characterised as ‘anti-folk’ but there’s a lot of different styles going on here. Folk, punk, indie and psychedelia all play a part. The projector comes out for ‘The Life of Sitting Bull’, Lewis narrating a projection of his comic about “the small guy fighting for the oppressed”.
‘The History of Punk on the Lower East Side of NYC 1950 - 1975’ is a genuinely thrilling stroll through punk’s musical back-pages. Jeff’s comic is projected as the three-piece play brief snippets of iconic and underappreciated songs. Everyone from Richard Hell to David Peel, The Fugs and Patti Smith. I guess we should add educational lectures and spoken-word to that list too.
‘The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song’ is still one of the best examples of Lewis’ storytelling skills, detailing a conversation about the famous Leonard Cohen song with a girl he bumps into. The melancholic melody infused with humour, regret, comfort and hope. “The next time you’re feelin’ kinda lonesome and blue” sings a solo Lewis “just think that someone, somewhere might be singing about you”.
As usual Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts have filled the gig with more ideas and invention then most acts manage in a lifetime. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the comic book tale of the brave and somewhat indestructible ‘Champion Jim’, a man who “learned how to play guitar with just his smile”. You just can’t keep Champion Jim (or Jeffrey Lewis) down.