Furman’s entire existence as a performer seems to be geared towards making explicitly queer angst more of a staple of rock music.
Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR
Ezra Furman deserves all the success he attains. One of the most talented songwriters of the last decade, he’s slowly made a name for himself delivering raw queer music that toes the line between punk and pop without dipping into pop-punk. His acidic voice carries the angst he sings about with remarkable precision, and it feels like, with every passing record, he gets closer and closer to the widespread renown that should come with making things like Transangelic Exodus. Then came Netflix’s resplendent coming-of-age series “Sex Education”—his music exists all over that show, each episode featuring at least one of his songs. In one episode, Furman and his band perform at a dance thrown by the high school at the center of the show. Anyone familiar with his music could see that his songs angle for a flavor of teen angst perfectly enough that you’d almost believe some of the songs were written for the series.
His Aladdin Theater performance was the first time I’ve seen him perform outside of a festival setting, so it’s hard to gauge exactly the role the TV show played in delivering this music to a wider audience, but even if his crowd size hasn’t changed, things seem to be going pretty well. The house was pretty packed, with the designated dance floor in front of the stage stuffed to the gills with clearly queer people visibly living in a cloud of joy. Furman’s entire existence as a performer seems to be geared towards making explicitly queer angst more of a staple of rock music, and the end result was a crowd full of those who need that kind of music to survive the perils of being a young queer person in the American hellscape. Frankly, the community could use a lot more idols like that.
Furman had the crowd eating out of his hands from the moment the opening notes of Transangelic opener “Suck the Blood from My Wound” began, and from afar, the crowd seemed rowdy. This isn’t to say that they were aggressive, but rather it was an exuberant tangle of bodies, seemingly set free by the music. That energy held throughout the show, as Furman ping-ponged between songs from Twelve Nudes, Transangelic Exodus and 2015’s Perpetual Motion People, each song renewing the crowd’s joy levels. They shouted their love and requests in between songs, and Furman’s face beamed consistently with every passing shout of gratitude and adoration.
Compared to previous Portland shows, Furman was decidedly dressed-down for this evening. Flanked by bearded men in red one-piece jumpsuits (he referred to them as his “pit crew” at one point, a staggeringly cute nickname for a backing band), he wore a Pink sweatshirt with a tiger on it and black pants—later, after losing the sweater, it was revealed that the whole thing was a sleeveless black jumpsuit itself. The outfit didn’t do anything to diminish his intensity—or prevent his climbing on top of the house speakers, a move that seems to be almost too irresistible to every charismatic frontperson who graces the Aladdin stage. The songs of Twelve Nudes sounded great in the space, each of which inspiring its own brand of fervor, from the slow “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” to the blistering “My Teeth Hurt.” Partway through, he took a moment to unwittingly encapsulate the spirit of his music perfectly: “You can feel great joy and great anger at the same time,” he said while introducing Nudes’ “Trauma,” before cheekily giving the audience permission to blame the rich for our anger.
“When I was young, I knew there was something sacred about a good show,” Furman said midway through the set. He’s right: spaces where great music is happening exist within a certain energy that doesn’t happen when people aren’t as stoked about the music coming from the stage. The Aladdin crowd may have been predisposed to enjoy the concert regardless, but any way you slice it, Furman and his band put on a killer show capable of bathing the audience in that same sacred energy, and if we’re lucky, performances like this one will inspire at least a few people to start their own bands that are capable of making transformative art out of angst. Is that what Furman was hoping to accomplish? It may be garish to trot out the old, apocryphal line about how everyone who bought The Velvet Underground & Nico formed a band, but when you’re in the thick of an Ezra Furman show, you might feel inspired to do the exact same thing.