Concert review: Ezra Furman at Ace of Cups

Andy Downing

Ezra Furman took to Twitter early Wednesday, writing that he was fasting for the Jewish holiday of Purim but would use the evening's concert at Ace of Cups to “celebrate humanity, protest oppression, and share some energy to take into the continuing fight for our fellow human beings who are vulnerable to destruction.”

But not before filling in a near-capacity audience about the roots of the celebration. “[Purim] is like many Jewish holidays,” Furman said early in his 90-minute performance at the Old North venue. “They tried to kill us. They failed.”

Fittingly, Furman's songs were littered with characters who had survived abuse, depression, indignation and worse, but who still managed to plow onward. “I am shattered, I am bleeding, but goddamnit I'm alive,” he sang on “Peel My Orange Every Morning,” a lazy Sunday ballad interrupted by sharp-elbowed bursts of noise.

It's a philosophy the musician summed up most cleanly on the clattering “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” off his most recent album, Transangelic Exodus (Bella Union), released earlier this year. “Even the deepest wounds will heal over time,” he sang.

A part of Furman's appeal lies in his ability to make these wounds feel so devastatingly fresh, however, and there were multiple occasions when his crackling voice approximated a scab breaking open. Such was the case on “Come Here, Get Away From Me,” where Furman waffled between desiring isolation and companionship, his braying vocals suggesting he was far from coming to any meaningful decision.

Songs routinely explored concepts such as travel (Transangelic Exodus is a loose concept album centered on the narrator's escape alongside an angelic companion, and most tracks reference driving in some form, as Furman noted from the stage) and transformation. “Skin on my fingers peeling,” Furman sang on one tune, “making way for my new form.”

Similar evolutions took place within the music. Furman, supported here by his four-piece backing band the Visions, injected songs with elements of doo-wop, calypso, punk, Americana, noise and more, some numbers mutating through two or three distinct life stages. "Driving to L.A.," for one, interspersed dreamy, chiming passages with full-throated, nightmarish outbursts.

Some tunes were stripped-down — “The Great Unknown” built around little more than Furman's voice and the percussive clatter of drumsticks on metal — while others were impenetrably dense. The relentless, driving “No Place" somehow approximated a the feel of a massive manhunt, Furman pursued by scraping guitar and tireless drums that conjured images of feverish, flashlight-wielding search parties.

Even as the road propelled Furman forward, the musician found time to look back, singing of early romance on songs such as the swinging “I Lost My Innocence” and the saxophone-stoked “I Love You So Bad,” as well as covering classics from the 1970s (a quick, dirty take on Bruce Springsteen's “Thunder Road”) and '80s (Kate Bush's “Hounds of Love”).

He also reminded the audience that, while times might feel bleak, people are still in possession of a great power, which he implored everyone to use in the coming year.

“Register to vote,” Furman said. “We got one job right now, and it's best summed up in the seven-word title of this next song … 'Tell Em All to Go to Hell.'”