Jeffrey Lewis: the William Morris of early 21st century Manhattan. A rather bold declaration, and definitely a facetious one, but when confronted with the lo-fi multimedia roadshow that is Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, you can’t help but react with gleeful exaggerations.
Let me follow that with another one: Jeffrey Lewis is one of the very few musicians you can enjoy without knowing a single song he plays. In my case this is almost literally true, since I had not followed Lewis’s career closely, beyond enjoying his musical histories of the Fall and punk on the Lower East Side.
The effectiveness of his lo-fi-dom, typified by the pickup sellotaped to his trusty and battered acoustic, is in the way that the music acts as context, a score for his intimate tales of existential befuddlement. Which is not to say that the music is unimportant, but rather that it is there to serve the lyrics, rather than having a bunch of words thrown on top of it.
They have the immediacy of novelty songs, but their wry observations, particularly in songs like “When You’re By Yourself”, give them the staying power of a short story that gets so close to your daily life that it is no longer a matter of fiction and more one of millennial phenomenology. The pretension is mine, not theirs.
And just when you are worried things might be getting a little to real for you, Lewis is there to help with a capella renditions of Nirvana songs accompanied by literal and hilarious depictions of the lyrics, not to mention a brand new installment of his long-running history of Communism.
The night closes with a Pixies cover, more Nirvana “music videos”, and profuse apologies from Lewis for not having time to play even more songs, giving us just enough time to buy a few (ridiculously inexpensive) copies of his comics before riding home.