Expect the unexpected: Ezra Furman opened his set at Colston Hall with ‘Cherry Lane’, the last song off his second solo album ‘Day of the Dog’ (2013). Clad in a black and white dress and his signature red lipstick, he immediately captivated the crowd. After fan favourite ‘Tell ‘em All to Go to Hell’ has them warmed up, his setlist switches to songs predominately from his newest release ‘Transangelic Exodus’ (February 2018).
In an interview with NME Furman explained the album title: “Well, there is a condition […] called transangelicism. It involves a human being growing wings and turning into an angel. Naturally these people are distrusted. It’s thought to be a disease or some kind of threat to the integrity of the human race. People want to quarantine them, even though it’s not a contagious thing. It’s actually not a threat to anyone.” The album loosely follows a narrative of two lovers, one a transangelic angel, on the run from oppressive authorities. It’s essentially an allegory to modern society in line with the archetypal American road story, like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or the film Thelma and Louise. ‘Transangelic Exodus’ similarly has a cinematic feel- synth- heavy ‘Driving Down to L.A’ sounds like it should be in a film soundtrack, the protagonist gazing wistfully out of a car window.
The first song Ezra plays from the new album is ‘Maraschino Red- Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ which explores gender as well as religious identity: ‘I don’t think I’ll be showing up / At synagogue at quart past seven’. The lyrics on ‘Transangelic Exodus’ are arguably his best yet, emotionally jarring yet uplifting, exploring a whole host of themes including exile, toxic masculinity and tech paranoia: ‘I’ll run my fingers over your scars and yours over mine / They’ll never find us if we turn off our phones’. Like David Bowie or Lou Reed (Furman has recently written a book on his seminal album ‘Transformer’) he beautifully captures the marginal space of queerness in modern society with an underlying them of self-acceptance: ‘I’ve looked deep into this frail human body / And I know that I carry a power’ (‘God Lifts Up the Lowly’). His backing band ‘The Visions’ are incredible on ‘No Place’, Furman’s growling voice recalling his more resentful earlier songs such as ‘I Wanna Destroy Myself’.
The older songs receive a great sing-along reaction, especially from his 2015 breakthrough album ‘Perpetual Motion People’- ‘Haunted Head’ and ‘Ordinary Life’ are the highlights of the night. Furman coyly introduces the songs with little phrases like ‘This song is about teenage gay sex, cookies and cigarettes’, exuding an amazing stage presence which reaches its peak on his amazing cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’. His hour and a half set was very new album heavy, and the popular ‘Take Off Your Sunglasses’ and ‘Wobbly’ were missing from the setlist. His encore consisted of ‘Restless Year’ and ‘Suck the Blood From My Wound’ from the new album, closing with the defiant lyrics: ‘To them you know we’ll always be freaks’. ’Transangelic Exodus’ doesn’t translate live as well as it does as a solo headphone listen, at times the new songs blended into one another and lacked a bit of structure. But that’s always going to be the case with story-based albums and occasionally live you lose the brilliance of Ezra’s lyrics. As he sings in ‘The Greatest Unknown’: ‘A song is a dream that keeps on going when it’s over’.