With the hint of spring in the air, queer troubadour Ezra Furman dropped into Thalia Hall recently to kick off a tour and promote his new Transangelic Exodus ( on Belle Union Records ).
That ex-Evanton son Furman comes around at roughly the same time every year while releasing full lengths or EPs at the same rate speaks not only of his passion, talent, drive and intelligence, but also of his, well, obsession. He has always given me the impression that he's just a bit nutty ( in a nice way ) while managing to translate that quality into a uniquely individual musical voice.
Whether he toys with doo-wop, bossa nova, punk, AM rock, folk, techno, or Tin Pan Alley, for such a young guy ( he is 28 ) who has been recording for such a long time ( 12 years ), he seems incapable of sounding insincere or predictable. Add to this his relatively recent coming out, his sudden acceptance by a new ( queer ) audience, an on going tour schedule, and his habit of burping up songs like a non-stop cookie cutter, and you get an image of a man driven by his artistic impulses. Transangelic Exodus, in its own regard, reveals nothing newwhich is fine.
The opening track, "Suck the Blood from My Wound," is a positively hair-raising howler that ranks as one of the most compelling recordings of Furman's career. At the opposite extreme "Peel My Orange Every Morning," "Driving to L.A." and "Lost My Innocence" have a wistfulness which barely masks a melancholic tone. "Love You So Bad" is one of Furman's patented love songs disguised as a bruising brawler ( think of "Bloodsucking Whore" and you get the picture ) while "No Place," a song detailing Furman living on the streets for a short period feels cathartic and knotty.
Onstage at Thalia Hall on Feb. 26, Furman flitted out onstage wearing a flowery sundress while his band, The Visions ( actually the same line-up as his previous band, The Boyfriends with Sam Durke on drums, Ben Joseph on guitar, Jorgen Jorgensen on cello, and Tim Sandusky on saxophone ), wore white. They looked like a pack of Eton College boys out for a spot of badminton until Furman ripped through a purely savage take on "Suck the Blood from My Wound" followed by merciless versions of "Tip of A Match" and "Haunted Head." He was kind enough to give the bewildered and enraptured SRO audience a breather with a stroll through "My Zero" which at mid-tempo, robbed the song of its lilting melancholy.
It was still very amusing to hear Furman's take on things and he managed to be gracious and hilariously snarky. ( "Thanks for coming out to the show...we're gonna do some more faggot Jew songs for you now..." ) He introduced the new "Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" saying, "You may think that all there is to being queer is the mind blowing sex, the frivolity, and the good times but there is a darkness;i t's called shopping."
"No Place" found Furman twisting his lithe body while hurling the lyrics through clenched teeth like daggers and could be likened to primal therapy. If that seemed a tad on heavy Furman and his band finished the show like a pack of rambunctious delinquents on a rampage with brutal rips through "Love You So Bad," "I Wanna Destroy Myself" and "Tell 'Em All to Go to Hell."
A touch of rambunctious delinquency may be just what Channy Leaneagh and her band Polica need. As purveyors of glacial, arty and tasteful synth pop she and partners Chris Bierden ( on bass ), Drew Christopherson ( on drums ), and Ryan Olson ( also on drums ) routinely create arid chamber pieces which generally lack melodies, hooks, or much in the way of structure. In short, this Minneapolis bunch can be a bore but thankfully the new Music for the Long Emergency ( on Transgression Records ) and for a recent show at Thalia Hall they've partnered with Berlin symphonic collective S T A R G A Z E and enlisted the talents of modern dancers Nadine Olmo and Ryan Spenning to liven things up.
The inclusion of a subtle symphonic string section does wonders here, but the recording still feels largely uninvolving. "How is this Happening," a song Leaneagh wrote just after the presidential election features a low key tremble in her voice but at ten minutes it seems to go on forever. "Lipstick Stains" is more atmosphere than music and the whole of it is so slight that it could blow away at anytime. Only "Agree" seems to use the collaboration between the groups to both their advantage with its atypical melody and swirling strings surrounding Leaneagh's voice.
Onstage at Thalia Hall, the show opened with a calm reading of "Speaking of Ghosts," which like the mid-set "How Is this Happening" gained tremendously from the live setting and the set up ( Polica was situated on one side of the stage with S T A R G A Z E on the other with Leaneagh the focus of each ). If the music seemed sleepy the show took a turn for the dramatic when dancers Olmo and Spenning started dancing along. At times arch, graceful, theatrical, and wholly unpredictable the two of them pretty much upstaged the main attraction for most of the show. There was another nifty surprise in store, a nearly unrecognizable cover of Prince's "Something In the Water ( Does Not Compute )," which was even more abstract then the original and made one wonder what a Polica covers album would sound like.
Heads up: Tickets for Meshell N'degeocello at SPACE on March 26 and The Promontory on March 24 are still available while Kate Peirson of the B-52s is set for a solo show at City Winery on July 21. Ravinia has released its 2018 summer schedule and the line-up includes shows by Alan Cumming, Whoopi Goldberg, Diana Ross, Michael Feinstein, Kristen Chenowroth and two nights with '80s faves The Thompson Twins, the B-52s and The Culture Club.