Gig review: Ezra Furman at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Ezra Furman
Ezra Furman

When Ezra Furman covers her face with her hands for the fourth time in under an hour, it’s unclear whether she’s overcome by the audience reaction or just tired.

A post on Facebook days before the show, in which she announced an open-ended touring hiatus due to exhaustion, parenthood and transphobia, certainly points to the latter.

If this really is her last tour in a while then it seals her reputation as a performer who gives it their all, no matter what the emotional cost.

Her voice – which has the angsty yelp of Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano – is so raw by the end of bluesy opening track ‘Train Comes Through’ that you wonder if it will last the entire set.

It’s a delivery that sets the tone for much of the show. Current album All of Us Flames (2022) is a lyrically intense update of folk-rock, but the gig’s energy draws much more heavily on 2019’s punk influenced Twelve Nudes (an album that “makes me feel better when I feel powerless”).

Anger seethes through much of the muscular set, in which she’s backed by a four-piece band. Gone is the saxophone that lent a melodic edge to some previous tours, replaced by twin guitars and keyboard.

This may be punk with a melodic nod to the Buzzcocks, as on ‘What Can You Do but Rock ’n’ Roll’, but while it obviously serves an emotional outlet, she’s better served producing politically engaged pop. ‘Love You So Bad’ is a prime example, being proof that all you need are three chords and the blues. A near-perfect song that details gay love in small town America, it comes across as a genderqueer Bruce Springsteen in miniature (to whom she explicitly references on the sweeping ‘Forever in Sunset’).

It would be easy to repeat the formula of these anthemic, commercial tracks but one of the roots of her appeal has always been the wide scope of influences.

Dressed in an out-sized Whitney Houston T-shirt, the set taps into doo-wop (‘I Wanna be Your Girlfriend’), the Velvet Underground (a reworked, contemplative ‘Body Was Made’), and 60s girl-groups (‘Dressed in Black’, which she accurately describes as ‘the teenagers in a Ronettes track armed to the teeth’).