Du Blonde

-ALBERT HALL, MANCHESTER-

With the room still lit up by the sunlight, I arrive at Manchester’s Albert Hall about five minutes before tonight’s support act Du Blonde is due to begin. I’ve been aware of both Du Blonde and tonight’s headliner Ezra Furman for a few years now without ever making the leap to see a live show, so I’m looking forward to seeing both this evening.

As ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ by The Everly Brothers plays out, Du Blonde enter the stage with the venue about one third full. Du, previously known as Beth Jeans Houghton, addresses the crowd, noting “it’s nice we can see everybody”, due to that sunlight still beaming through the chapel windows.

Du Blonde’s set is largely made up of fast angular pop songs, many of them new to me having not featured on the only album to date Welcome Back To Milk, released back in 2015. The song ‘Hunter’, taken from that debut album, is a notable outlier, though despite it being a straight up ballad, bass player Scott Miller (formerly of London band Dry the River) still throws his head of hair around on every beat as though he’s playing the hardest of hard rock.

Five songs into the performance we are informed there are still five songs left on the set list with only ten minutes left to play them. Alas, only four more songs were played with the set finishing on ‘Black Flag’, the song that I would describe as the stand out track of the debut album, with the band leaving eight minutes after the scheduled end time. The performance was agreeable, but unfortunately fairly forgettable. My gut tells me these songs are better than tonight’s performance of them, and I hope to get another chance to be wowed by them.

As the stage is reset for the arrival of tonight’s headliner, I trundle off to the bar and part with a whole six English pounds in exchange for a beer. I reminisce for a time where I would have simply refused to pay such an extortionate price, but these days it’s no longer a surprise that the price has gone up just a little bit more since my last visit. By now the room is starting to feel a little more cramped, as people continue to arrive. A circular video screen showing a Transangelic Exodus clock face is lit up at the center of the stage, and with the last throws of daylight finally fizzling out, it is time for Ezra Furman to begin.

Ezra Furman

The four members of Furman’s band, currently going by the name The Visions, enter the stage first dressed all in white. Moments later, a more colourfully dressed Ezra Furman joins them on stage to huge applause. They get straight on with the show, opening with ‘Cherry Lane’ from 2013’s Day of the Dog album. Next is the much more aggressive ‘I Wanna Destroy Myself’ from the same album. The ferocious energy from the stage is yet to be matched by the attentive, but fairly subdued crowd.

Just two songs in, Furman confesses “I don’t usually go to church”, asking, while looking up at the crucifixes adorning the Albert Hall’s windows, “Is this still a church?”. “It won’t be when we’re done” he exclaims before heading into song number three, tonight’s first from latest album Transangelic Exodus, ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’. The pace is slowed again with ‘Haunted Head’ from 2015’s Perpetual Motion People. After it, as with each preceding song, the level of applause is huge, while during the songs the focus is on the stage, but heads are still and voices silent. ‘My Zero’, another from Day of the Dog is next along and for the first time in the set I detect people singing along to the chorus.

A run of four songs from the latest album, interrupted only by a cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ slowly start to encourage a few more heads around me to start nodding along, though complete focus on the stage is never lost. We jump back to Day of the Dog for the next two tracks, the full paced rock n roll of ‘Anything Can Happen’ and ‘And Maybe God Is a Train’, complete with sprawling saxophone lead parts. We learn at this point that back in 2014 a sold out show at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen is responsible for the band in front of us still being together. Following a disappointing US tour of the Day of the Dog album, the band were discussing breaking up following this final run of dates in the UK. It is claimed that after that Soup Kitchen show, they all stayed up late talking and the decision was made that they should keep making music together, and two albums later it would seem there are no immediate signs of that changing.

The set continues switching gears between slow, thoughtful songs and in your face all out rock performances. It is perhaps Furman’s ability to tell a story through song that leads much of the performance to feel almost theatrical. Who knows, maybe that’s where this is all going? An elaborate three hour musical about our hero, the wounded angel? Anyway, once ‘Tip Of A Match’ and ‘Restless Year’, both from Perpetual Motion People, bring the twenty song set to a close, the crowd is in no mood to go home. The calls for an encore are the most enthusiastic I’ve experienced in a long time, maybe ever. There’s clapping, there’s screaming, foot stomping from the balcony. This goes on unbroken for a minute or two before Furman sheepishly reappears. Once he’s located on the stage by the spotlight, he does all he can to hold back tears.

As is the pattern of the evening, once guitar is in hand, attentive silence breaks out. “I didn’t plan anything here” Furman explains, “so I’m just going to play what I feel like”. We are treated to three more songs, performed solo, the rest of the band remaining off stage. ‘Watch You Go By’ from Perpetual Motion People, a cover of Lucinda Williams’s ‘People Talkin’ and finally ‘Wild Feeling’, which was originally from 2011’s Mysterious Power, but tonight Furman tells us “I’ve changed it”.

There’s one more deafening outpouring of adulation from the Manchester crowd as our headliner leaves the stage once more. He seems overwhelmed by the occasion and includes a quick spin, coupled with picking up a bottle of water, as he makes his way across the stage. This was my first experience of Ezra Furman live, and I can see why he’s so loved. There doesn’t seem to be any fakery and there is a huge variety of songs to ensure he can play 23 in a night and completely hold the attention of a couple of thousand people while doing so. Also, it definitely doesn’t hurt that the opening riff to ‘Suck the Blood from My Wound’ is still playing on a loop in my head now.

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Adam Smith

There is nothing I'd rather be doing with my evenings than watching excellently crafted live music. In fact, there isn't much I'd rather be doing than watching half-decent live music. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.