Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Live Review: Ezra Furman and the Harpoons 6.23.09

Calling all New Yorkers. If you are in this city and you haven't found time to hear Ezra Furman and the Harpoons perform, do yourself a favor.

The venerable indie-folkers will wrap up their residency at Piano's on Tuesday, and if they repeat their performance from yesterday night, many smiling faces will be heading for the exit at about 11:05 p.m.

The Harpoons vaulted through an hour-long set that was entirely as manic as Furman's gleeful howls. Even when he promised to play a slow song, that tune ended up being "God Is a Middle-Aged Woman," which in turn ended up being one of the loudest songs of the night, all gritty and pained – and painfully honest – but disarmingly goofy as well. While the guitar got dirtier and the drums got louder, he was gazing at the ceiling as he snarled, "Oh, God! / Won't you just say hello?" It's fair to say that when he was telling it, the sheepish and silly Furman took us places the Vatican – more to the point, your rabbi – never could.

But let's be honest: where the Harpoons' 2007 album, Banging Down the Doors, was a young thinking kid's folk gem, last night's concert was a lesson in the virtues of first-degree pop. Still, the band was as tight as it was carefree, and the background harmonies conjured irrepressible grins even – check that, especially – when they occasionally missed the mark. This foursome was on top of its game. Furman's thunderous acoustic guitar pulse, the top-of-the-beat intensity of drummer Adam Abrutyn, the swelling harmonica lines that Furman nailed–if you weren't listening to the lyrics of "Take off your Sunglasses," you might have thought it was the E Street Band minus the organ, playing "The Promised Land." Then again, if you were feeling a little less generous, you could also have thought it was a long-lost Tom Petty hit. The x factor rendering all these comparisons irrelevant? That was Furman's voice.

He tosses off effortlessly clever ironies and allegories of lovesickness with a whoop so filled with abandon it drowns out all those Dylan comparisons. It came as a bit of a disappointment that Furman didn't have time to kick the band offstage for a solo acoustic set ("American Highway" woulda been nice...), but I guess that's what the album is for. Last night's rock 'n' roll, little had I known, was for dancing.

Note: the photo is not from Tuesday's show. It is from his January 6, 2008 show at the Mercury Lounge in New York.

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