What is this wonderful, droning idiotic repetition of a tune? Why, it must be Jeff Lewis & The Junkyard tuning up and starting their set in the bowels of the boat they call “Thekla” this Monday night in Bristol.
If you know Jeffrey Lewis, you know what to expect from a Jeffrey Lewis gig – quirky, endearing songs played with a nonchalance you can’t buy, lyricism that makes you actually listen to the words and an unbridled joy (especially from brother Jack on bass). What’s not to like?
Well, I guess if you don’t like ramshackle endings, mid-song, off-mic discussions – probably based on what might happen in the next ninety seconds – or short histories of North Korea in comic book style then Jeff Lewis may not be for you. Otherwise: WHOOP! Let the whimsy and joy commence in equal measure. In these days of F***book, Twitter and every other person blogging for food, experiencing an event as organic as this is becoming a genuine rare treat. There’s no backdrop or “lightshow” at the Thekla, nor is one needed as Jeff & The Junkyard entertain by music alone (comic book narratives not withstanding).
New songs taken from the latest collection of songs ‘Em Are I’ are strewn amongst older favourites. ‘Bugs And Flowers’ sits snugly amidst garage punk workouts – such as brother Jack’s ‘The Upside-Down Cross’ – and lyrics like “These flowers blooming they are not human, these flies and insects are really weird. Their backs are shiny, their souls are tiny, and by the zillions they’ve disappeared” are twee perhaps, but there’s a message here, one of mortality and our ultimate connection to the earth which we can do nothing to change despite our best efforts at controlling our environment.
It’s this wide-eyed enthusiasm and awareness of the world around us – around him – which makes Jeffrey Lewis so unique and so worth going to see live. The records are great, yes, but to see and hear him singing these tunes with his battered acoustic guitar sounding alternately clean as a whistle and dirty as a heavily distorted acoustic guitar is one of the pure, joyful events in this momentary life.
‘Roll Bus Roll’ is a beautiful example of the happy marriage of musical melody and tempo echoing the lyrical content of the song: “Roll Bus Roll, take me off. A rolled sweatshirt makes the window soft. If I fall asleep, don’t wake me up.. Roll bus roll, take me up”. Building up, rolling along, this is surely a masterclass in magical nuggets of lyricism. ‘Broken Broken Heart’, conversely, makes light of the harsh realities of the subject matter with it’s jaunty rhythm, but the lyrics are as hopeless and angry as you’d expect from a song with such a title.
It looks so easy for Jeffrey Lewis on stage – and common belief is that these live performances are advertising space for his undoubted talent as a cartoonist – his easy manner with audiences honed across many tours and journeys around Europe and the States. This manifested itself by deciding that the night’s theme was “Themes” and pondering the likelihood that we were actually sinking but the water hadn’t reached us yet. His comic book interludes numbered only one this evening – the aforementioned “History of North Korea” – hey, a history lesson in rhyming couplets and cartoon form! – just another reason this is not just another rock show. After an hour and a quarter, the Junkyard leave the stage to rapturous applause and another few converts will leave with the already hooked into an early Spring night suggesting a great year ahead for Jeff Lewis, his band and his many talents.