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Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard – Stereo, Glasgow

‘I might not be in magazines as a heart-throb face’ sings Jeffrey Lewis on ‘Cult Boyfriend’, ‘but in a few devoted places I’ve found a strong fanbase’. Glasgow, it appears, has joined the ever-growing list of cities to be captivated by the idiosyncratic charm of the man Jarvis Cocker described as ‘the best lyricist working in the US today’. Stereo, a medium-sized venue, is absolutely packed midweek for Lewis and backing band. It’s a testament to the virtues of lo-fi songwriting of the highest quality married with a ferocious work ethic.

When ELM spoke to Lewis the last time he was here, he admitted that he didn’t have an off-button when it came to the creative. That’s certainly been reflected in the splenetic activity of the last few years, a constant cycle of touring – with and without band – and culminating in the quietly excellent A Turn in the Dream-Songs.

For those familiar with Lewis’ work, it’s instantly, thrillingly recognisable as belonging to the canon; soft, shambolic folk merging with noodly psychedelic mini-wig outs and gloriously direct 60s garage. Lyrically, he’s as sharp as ever; while his eye for detail remains as sharp and precise as a surgeon’s scalpel, the size of his heart and his complete rejection of cynicism make his records the uplifting treasures they’ve always been.

He follows Seth Faergolzia, an interesting if not wholly successful support. The Dufus man is resplendently bearded and caught at a point roughly adjacent between genius and halfwit. The singing alternates between a proud, lively tenor and a full-throated bluesy roar, with stop-overs in shouty rubbish rapping and clucking gibberish. He slashes and picks at an acoustic guitar or shouts over a sampled electro-beat. He gets an audience member to pour water into his mouth so he can gargle. It is sometimes wonderful. It is often deeply irritating. It is never boring.

Lewis and the Junkyard don’t really do the big staged entrance; he and band (including brother Jack) mill about on stage fixing their own equipment before commencing. Initially, he’s almost hesitant, but after a few gentle openers, we’re on our way. ‘When You’re On Your Own’ is brilliant, as is ‘Cult Boyfriend’. The obligatory Crass song is delivered with panache, before a surprisingly brilliant cover of Eminem’s ‘Brain Damage’. ‘Water Moving, Water Leaving’ is a tad meandering, but we’ll forgive him that.

What makes Lewis so engaging is the uniqueness he seems to bring to every show. You can imagine that this set won’t be replicated ever again; that this was, on this one night, what came out and won’t be recreated in perfect Xerox style the next night. Of course, that may not be the case, but if not then it hints at an artifice not really found anywhere else in his work. It’s music to make your feet move and your heart swell, performed with an infectious joy.

The inevitable comic book history lesson this time comes from the French Revolution. It’s quirky, funny, educational and heartfelt. A bit like the man himself. The best lyricist in the US? Yes. And then some.

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One Response

  1. Good review sorry I missed him this time around !

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