Jeffrey Lewis is a singer songwriter and comic book artist and writer, and that wordy description of his career is a pretty accurate summation of his work. Economical in everything but words, Lewis’ performance at Loppen is a mishmash of music and art, sometimes though-provoking and often amusing.
The latest incarnation of his ever-rotating band is the Jrams, featuring Caitlin Grey on bass/synth and Heather Wagner on drums, with both women chipping in with backing vocals, though there are none of the duets that feature on Lewis’ albums. Despite only arming himself with a sticker-plastered acoustic guitar, he still manages to shred away, distorting things into oblivion, flinging off his guitar strap and nearly taking out his synth before the end of the second song.
The set is upbeat, even though Lewis’ delivery is always even-keeled and sometimes leans towards melancholy, and even if songs like “Anxiety Attack” and “So What If I Couldn’t Take It” are darkly comic, if not depressing. The massive smile plastered across Wagner’s face throughout the set only emphasizes that the most serious moments are still meant to be fun.
The real treat in Lewis’ live shows are his low-budget films, which involve him standing on a chair with an over-sized comic book he’s drawn. His band plays a rhythm and he sings along to the pictures in his book. Last night’s films included a low-budget biopic on Watchmen creator Alan Moore and a chapter of Lewis’ ongoing “History of Communism” series, Part 6: Vietnam. Such is the educational portion of the evening.
And if songs about communism somehow gave no indication that Lewis is politically aware, there’s his latest single, “WWPRD” (What Would Pussy Riot Do) which he performed as spoken word. Most remarkably, he managed to silence the room with his screed on the value of artistic integrity (except for the intermittent cheers — who would have thought there would be anti-corporate types in Christiania?).
It might have made more of a statement to end on the ensuing punk rock spazz out, but in the end it’s an encore of the more gentle, folky “The East River” and “Reaching” that send everyone off back into the cold. Maybe that’s more appropriate; maybe songs about walking home are what you should be left with while making your way home.