Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard, Seth Faergolzia & Viking Moses – Live at the Third Door, Edinburgh, 26th October 2011

 Well well well, this was really rather excellent.  I went along to an absolutely rammed Third Door last night (you know, that place which used to be Medina, but now has a brand spanking new soundsystem, which is excellent news for Edinburgh gig-goers) for an absolutely cracking three-band bill, and a forceful reminder that I have been rather neglecting Jeffrey Lewis for the last couple of years.

Viking Moses – I am really pleased Viking Moses rather randomly turned up on this bill, because he was absolutely excellent at Rob St. John’s album launch last Saturday, but I felt a bit weird reviewing one of my own gigs, so it’s nice to have the chance to put that right here.

Once again, Brendon was brilliant.  His songs have that old fire-and-brimstone gothic folk feel to them, and the wild mood swings of his delivery, from a tender croon to a distressed wail, keep you in a suitably ambiguous sense of uncertainty.  He doesn’t seem to sing songs so much as he seems to simply think in music, and when he lets it spill out, this is what we get. It was another performance which was both intense and whimsical, and full of charm.

Seth Faergolzia – I know almost nothing of Faergolzia’s previous band, Dufus, beyond the reverence in which they are held by certain friends of mine. I am definitely going to be putting an end to that ignorance though, because this was fantastic.  A little like Viking Moses and Jeffrey Lewis, the personal charisma of the man himself was absolutely central to the performance.

He varied from the sentimental to the outright bizarre, at times reminding me more than a little of Fife-based Fence hero Gummi Bako.  There were acoustic guitar songs, supplemented with a thumping kick-drum when real emphasis was needed, and a couple of absolutely masterful monologues, delivered over a pre-recorded track of wonky electronica.  The best way I can think to describe these tracks is to try and conjure a slightly woozy chip-tuner after a few too many beers, slurring a half-remembered version of Tom Waits’ Diamonds on My Windshield.

It’s not unusual for people from bands to be kind of cringeworthy when they dip their toes in this kind of territory, but this was absolutely inspired, and by some miracle seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of the acoustic stuff.  And when he ended the set duetting with Jeffrey Lewis on a song called Weird Old Toad… well, it was like I was being personally serenaded!

Jeffrey Lewis – As for the man himself, well I left with something of a guilty conscience actually.  I thought Lewis’ previous album Em Are I was pretty good, but not really much better than that, so I ended up taking my eye of the ball a little as far as his recent stuff goes.

Well he has a new album out now, and although I don’t know it yet, and although he played a considerable number of old songs last night, I realise I have allowed myself to become a little lazy about a fantastic artist.

Having seen Withered Hand put in a truly excellent performance at the Queen’s Hall on Monday, the comparisons are pretty clear: a talent to be gulp-inducingly touching and laugh-out-loud funny in the same song, and to base their lyrics so heavily on pathos without ever seeming self-indulgent or self-pitying clearly applies to both artists.

The band switched seamlessly from a wistful sway, to frantic lunacy, to playful larking, and in general they neatly reflected the way that Lewis himself seems to have perfected that way of dropping all sorts of thoughts into his music, whilst always maintaining an odd unity of feeling, from the random spoken word histories of Marco Polo set to a cartoon slideshow, to exhortations not to waste your life as time ticks away from you, to a joyous (and recurring) cover of the Bob Seger System’s 2+2=?

And somehow the tangents on which they embarked never seemed incoherent or messy, it just all fit well together, presumably because deep down the entire project is based pretty honestly on the character of Lewis himself, and however much this kind of honesty in music is rarely ever entirely unguarded, his work seems to have a kind of frank integrity and gentle humour which lets him pull off things other artists could never get away with without seeming just a little too intense or self-regarding.

Being one of the best lyricists around and having the ability to write a seemingly endless supply of hummable tunes presumably helps too.

Jeffrey Lewis – You Don’t Have to Be a Scientist to Do Experiments on Your Own Heart
Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – Roll Bus Roll

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