Review: Jeffrey Lewis – De Barra’s, Clonakilty, 26.08.14
Words: Ralph Mexico
This shouldn’t work. A lippy Noo Yawker in a baseball cap showing us cartoons at regular intervals? These are the kinda guys you’d anticipate being first against the wall when The Cool Revolution comes. (Due on October 29th, 2018 according to latest predictions.)
Yet, through force of will and sleight of hand, Jeffrey Lewis had the sizeable De Barra’s crowd wilfully eating out of his hand.
Jeffrey’s hand-drawn cartoons were beamed onto a screen on the back wall as an accompaniment to three pieces which dealt with The French Revolution, a bus-load of nuns finding a severed hand, and a sublime Dashiell Hammett spoof. The usual anti-folk fare.
These were side-shows to the main event: the songs, the songs, the songs. Lewis is a writer of the highest calibre. You suspect that he’d prefer to sell a hundred comics than a million records (he called an early EP The Only Time I Feel Right Is When I’m Drawing Comic Books after all) but his sharp, poignant, witty vignettes are pearls, absolute jewels.
While there may be humour, it’s laced with a world-weary world-view that is never cynical, ‘cos Jeffrey Lewis has a great, big heart. He wants us all to understand it can be a cruel world, yet it can also be a wonderful world.
“Animals are critters / Just like you and me / Except they don’t worry”; “We’re only boats / And the boats are empty”; “You say you’ve got a heavy heart” – these are the lines of a master craftsman. He makes “falling in the East River” sound like the best fun in the world. ‘What Would Pussy Riot Do?’ – a blistering rap, sang a capella – was extraordinary in its power.
Every second song seemed to be a ballad about how it’s ok that no-one really understands him. He’s happy in his own skin, with his pencils and his multi-stickered acoustic guitar. He has a pop at how grim it is being a support act on big tours. He, bizarrely, has a cut at ickle little birdies. He sounds like a placid Hammell On Trial, a less quirky Jonathan Richman, a heartbroken Lou Barlow, a hopped-up Side One of Bringing It All Back Home Dylan.
Near the finish he sings ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’ which details what a tool The Bonny “Prince” is (a view to which I subscribe having met the bearded bollocks in the queue for noodles at CorkXSW one year and wanting to rip his throat out after a four second conversation). He then makes a pig’s ear of a piss-poor Lou Reed tune (don’t know the name, don’t care), and finally flits through a few brilliant covers by Tony Greene, his favourite undiscovered singer.
With any luck Jeffrey Lewis will be the world’s favourite discovered singer in 2014. He was so impressive I got him to draw me a “44” in my little black notebook. But that’s a story for another day…