Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Live, Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh, Monday 31st August 2009

[This review was very kindly written by Dylan from Blueback Hotrod.  He was initially down to photograph the show, but I just couldn’t get there in time so he ended up being there by himself and was nice enough to review the gig for us.  Thanks very much!]

I’m starting this review at the end of the show, because, for me the defining moment of the evening’s entertainment was watching the faces of the security staff standing at the back of the stage turn increasingly thunderous as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard crashed through Cabaret Voltaire’s 10pm curfew and gleefully played an extra half-hour of encores, much to the delight of the genuinely adoring crowd.

I honestly believe that, before they finally left the stage in a howl of feedback, the band were mere moments away from having the power pulled and being physically carried from the stage by the burly bouncers.

And that, for me, was quite a nice little allegory for the anti-folk movement which Jeffrey Lewis spearheads, and the regard in which it seems to be held by the public at large. The non-initiated will look on in frustration; confused and even occasionally annoyed, while the true believers respond rapturously to the performers’ harmless and playful naughtiness.

I should make it clear that I’m not an expert on Jeffrey Lewis and his work, but I’ve picked up bits and pieces here and there. What I’ve heard so far has been perfectly pleasant while never really setting my world on fire; and I must admit that I find my opinion hasn’t really changed much following the Cab Vol show.

Don’t get me wrong, it was good fun and a great performance from a tight and entertaining band. Lewis might seem an unlikely showman, skinny as a rake, shaggy hair thinning under the spotlights, and apologising for wearing one of his own promo t-shirts for the show (apparently it was laundry day and he couldn’t find a “laund-o-mat”.) but he worked his audience like an old stager. The short snappy songs, of which there seemed to be dozens, leapt unpredictably from acoustic folk numbers, to acappella rap, to garage rock wig-outs, Lewis’ jumbo-bodied acoustic guitar sounding remarkably raucous and grungy with the pick-up turned way up.

JEFF_0002On a couple of occasions during the set, Lewis took the opportunity to narrate some of the surreal yet witty comic books he famously writes, flicking through the pages of oversized hand-drawn comics, holding them up for the audience to see, in what seemed to be something of a tradition judging by the dog-eared and sellotape-patched condition of the books. It was a nice touch and served to highlight the narrative quality to Lewis’ lyrics, the imagery in his songwriting also described in short detailed vignettes which seem to reflect a comic-book style of story-telling.

There was a lot to like about the gig, but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed that I haven’t walked away from the venue eager to investigate Jeffrey Lewis’ work with more urgency, considering the renown in which he’s held. I’m left admiring his talent as a wordsmith and storyteller, but those words don’t really hold much emotional resonance for me. I’ll no doubt happily enjoy whatever might drop into my lap from this likable troubadour in future, but – with a twinge of regret – I find I’m not really excited enough to rabidly chase down every last morsel of his work that I can..

Jeffrey Lewis – Don’t Be Upset

Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Whistle Past the Graveyard

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