Jeffrey Lewis – review

Windmill, London

One of the rewarding things about being a cult act, free of the need to sell millions of records, is that you can do whatever takes your musical fancy. And what takes anti-folk songwriter/comic-book artist Jeffrey Lewis's fancy these days is collaborating with Peter Stampfel, a dapper 72-year-old Manhattanite. A founding member of the Greenwich Village beatnik/folk outfit the Holy Modal Rounders, Stampfel is steeped in the jargon of the 1960s (how many other musicians reminisce about "my ex-old lady, who was a psychedelic guide"?), yet he and Lewis complement each other wonderfully.

Although Lewis's name has sold the tickets, it's a gig of equals. Stampfel plays violin, wildly and raggedly, Lewis is on guitar, and both sing. Lewis's solo style is nerdy and wry, but tonight he's half of a rootsy, from-the-gut duo, and their voices carouse and weave. Backed by a Brit on mandolin, Franic Rozycki of the Wave Pictures, they make a raw, lusty noise.

Ribbing each other with anecdotes about how great the other is, they play as much from their new collaborative album, Come on Board, as from Lewis's work. The audience politely chuckle through the boys' own wackiness of Bottle Caps Are Cool, although the wayward desolation of Gong of Zero is a better showcase for their talents. They also visit Stampfel's brimming solo catalogue, which is how the audience find themselves singing the chorus to a hoedown called Black Leather Swamp Nazi.

Lewis only takes centre stage when he clambers on to a stool and displays some of his comic books. Which would we like him to read aloud, he asks, Pocahontas or The Fall of the Soviet Union? Unsurprisingly, the audience plump for Pocahontas, and he raps/sings the sad story while turning the pages. Stampfel watches fondly; they are quite a duo, this mismatched but perfectly compatible pair of New Yorkers.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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