“These are all classics, you just don’t know it yet,” whispers Ezra Furman after playing a handful of tracks from the as yet unreleased Transangelic Exodus.
In other artists the statement would appear brash but in the Chicagoan, who seems genuinely humbled by the response he receives, it’s sweetly hopeful.
It also happens to be completely true.
A concept album in which Furman has to flee the US government after falling in love with an outlawed angel, it’s a timely metaphor for the persecution of the ‘other’. Yet while making statements about being a non-binary, cross-dressing observant Jew the socio-political points never overshadow the music.
This means that the set passionately and joyously connects with the audience, turning his cry of “to them you know we’ll always be freaks” on recent single ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound’ into a point of self-identifying solidarity. The track is a choice indication of how he’s developed from previous releases, which were an off-kilter punk version of vintage rock and roll.
Broadening his sonic palette without sacrificing his intriguing mash-up of styles, he seamlessly switches from a Gordon Gano fronted Talking Heads (‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 At Goodwill’) to atmospheric Bad Seeds-ish psycho blues (‘Come Here Get Away From Me’). Tim Sandusky’s honking sax, meanwhile, brings a halo of Roxy Music’s early avant-pop (‘Love You So Bad’).
These new tracks – interspersed with a healthy smattering of old favourites including the doo-wop influenced ‘Teddy I’m Ready’ – are united by conversational yet compactly descriptive lyrics. They’re also imbued with a sense that the words are being ripped out of his soul, his vocals gloriously straddling a whine and howl in a way rarely heard outside of the Violent Femmes or Bright Eyes.
It’s a distinctive quality that’s brought to a jittery, uneasy cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ and a solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’, which has an intentionally scrappy guitar solo. Both artists have amassed fervent fan-bases built on connection. This two-hour set suggests that Furman is a worthy contender to follow in their footsteps.