Sunday, 30 August 2009

Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard, Trades Club, Hebden Bridge, Thursday August 27

Jeffrey Lewis must be the hardest working man in indie. Relatively unsuccessful in America, the New York singer-songwriter and comic book artist has built up an ever growing and well deserved fan base here over the past few years by embarking on a seemingly perpetual tour of the UK (the bohemian life of a sleeping on fans’ floors and appealing for a place to spend the night at the end of gigs is well documented in his comics, including one overnight stay in a Manchester halls of residence).

He was last in Manchester only a few months ago, but no matter how many times you’ve seen him before, Jeffrey Lewis is ever entertaining. This is partly because he has a huge amount of material to choose from, including a library of ‘films’ - large, travel-worn comic books flicked through to a half-spoken, half-sung accompaniment, a collection of timeline songs documenting everything from the story of the Fall to the history of punk, and even an album of Crass covers.

There is still room for surprises, though. Starting at the Trades Club with a rap about mosquitoes, Jeffrey Lewis flits between introspective guitar and voice based folk songs, swinging pop tunes like Posters and noisy, squalling punk with the tap of his foot on a guitar FX pedal.

For a while a lone troubadour with a guitar covered in an ever-changing crust of stickers, Lewis has been touring with his brother Jack recently (Jack Lewis and the Fishermen Three provide the support, Jack's Pavement esque pop punk contrasting with his brother's erudite, thoughtful wordiness. Jack Lewis's band swap singers and mutate into the slower, more countrified Fishermen Three from time to time, and later members from both bands adorn Jeff's set with drums, trumpet and keyboard).

What makes Lewis' songs stand out over those of his brother, though, is his poetry and imagination. His songs are highly personal narratives, like windows into his life, from The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, a cautionary tale of an acid trip gone wrong, to a wry acknowledgment of a 2.3 Pitchfork review. His subject matters are instantly familiar, but somehow he makes every day things like instant noodles sound just as interesting as more conventional comic book topics like zombies.

The thirty three year old admits the past year has been tough for him (Broken Broken Broken Heart reminds us of his publicly documented split with former girlfriend and band member Helen), and the transient lifestyle has obviously had its effect on him, not least in his thinning hairline.

For this reason, Roll Bus Roll, from latest album ’Em Are I, is the highlight of the night. Starting slowly with Lewis’ clickety clickety guitar, it builds momentum to imitate a rolling bus journey. We can all recognise the ‘rolled sweatshirt’ that ‘makes the window soft’, and the end of youthful freedoms that whiz past. Jeffrey Lewis sings ‘I wasn’t designed to move so fast, I wasn’t designed to have so much past’, but he makes it through to the end, and still appears to be enjoying every minute of it.

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