Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts at the Crescent Community Venue

It was a warm welcome once again at The Crescent in York on a balmy bank holiday Monday as Please Please You presented Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts, with Me & My Bro and Meabh McDonnell.

By Blue Wilson
Photos by Andy Argyle

New York came to York on Monday night with the return of comic book writer/artist, punk poet and musician Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts with support from Me & My Bro and Meabh McDonnell.

First up and ‘out of retirement’ were tongue-in-cheek duo Me & My Bro, much to the delight and amusement of the already full house. Two laugh-out-loud funny lads like Men Behaving Badly, armed with guitars, hilarious slob stories and comedic delivery, had everyone enraptured as their confidence grew. You could imagine this pair having shared a room at university and, deciding never to leave, scribbling down uproarious songs together about sexual relationships with jelly fish, inverted love songs where you demoralise your girlfriend and the horror of finding “a bee in the car!” There was a thematic yet deviant ditty about pre-pubescent gymnasts on the telly and then a tale about a precarious office job. The best was saved until last however and a harmonica solo closing the brilliantly penned Cactus Boy and his confusing gene pool – because “fitting in is so hard when the closer people get the more they get hurt.”

Folk singer/songwriter Meabh McDonnell from Belfast followed with gentler guitar and vocals showcasing her earnest songs and witty ditties like Belle and Dyslexic Bitch with its sweet, comic ending. A woeful anecdote about losing her £30 cashback at Morrison’s self-service checkout then followed by a pleasantly surprising cover of Bjork’s Hyperballad.

The cool crowd at The Crescent were certainly starting to simmer then as they waited in anticipation for the headline act, Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts, now consisting of Jeffrey (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards/synth), his brother Jack (bass, keyboards/synth, harmonica, vocals), Emily ‘Mem’ Pahl (bass, guitar, vocals) and Brent Cole (drums, percussion, harmonica, vocals). With influences from The Velvet Underground, Beck, Dylan, The Fall, Daniel Johnston, Pavement, 60s psych, Krautrock and a wit like Woody Allen, described as having a nihilistic, self-deprecating and absurd view of the world but also being the best lyricist working in the US today, this gig promised to be interesting.

He kicked off with a really upbeat, foot tapping version of Roll Bus Roll, a catchy melody to a song about falling asleep on a Greyhound bus, ending with a psychedelic instrumental. A heart-warming rendition of What I Love Most in England is the Food was next. Extolling the highlights of being here again, he had the room eating out of the palm of his hand. Support Tours told of the ups and downs of being the support band on tour, contrasted then by a more meandering monotone number with enjoyable keyboard intro. A charmingly comical up tempo favourite then with Outta Town, telling of an inability to function in the absence of his girlfriend followed by Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror and Sad Screaming Old Man. With wave like cymbals Water Leaking, Water Moving gently transported the venue to ’60s Manhattan.

Songs shifted in style from unfathomably fast paced talky tunes where you are bewildered as to how he memorises, let alone recites, his insanely clever lyrics at such speed to the more polished melodic harmonies demonstrating his and his band’s true musical capability. His ability to improvise in between his brilliantly observed insightful perspectives and comic tales of confusion is remarkable.

With scratchy, nasally, lo-fi vocals, he performed dark, contemplative, jocular narratives of neurosis, cynicism, paranoia and social discord. On the flipside there were endearing optimistic folksy glimpses of existence in his abstract soundscapes, ballads and poems, as in Don’t Be Upset, sung out still in his signature air of malaise. These were interspersed with rampantly high energy garage noise indie rock and spirited anti folk punk songs. Visuals like glowing deep sea plankton were projected behind him in between when his many superb comic book drawings and ‘low budget videos’ were shown as they accompanied his sci-fi sagas and political folk dialogues. The highlight of these being his astoundingly dazzling Complete History of Communism.
It is easy to see why Jeffrey has a hard core cult following and is paving the way for fellow artists such as London based singer/songwriter Mathew Sawyer who similarly blurs the boundaries between poetry, music and visual art. Harder to understand is how he has not gone stratospheric, although you get the feeling this would be to the detriment of his creativity, or perhaps just fuel an alternative perspective to his lyrics and drawings. Either way, this is a must go-see act before he does start commanding headline stadium shows.

Me & My Bro, Meabh McDonnell and Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts played at The Crescent on Monday 29 August 2016