Ezra Furman’s wasn’t the longest set at Reading today, or on the biggest stage, but it was definitely one of the most exciting. Strolling out onto stage in a purple silk dress, the gender-fluid rocker looked every inch the debauched rock star. Throw in a giant wig and some platform heels and we could have been in CBGB’s watching New York Dolls circa 1977.
He is, of course, a completely unique artist in his own right though. Born in Chicago to strict Jewish parents Furman struggled with his identity for years before discovering music as an outlet. Now, on the Festival Republic Stage, it’s clear he’s flourishing in his own skin.
Lips pouting, chin raised proudly to the ceiling, Furman barks – half at the crowd, half at his support band – to “get ready”. He then proceeds to thrash his way through a rapidfire set – eight songs in 30 minutes – comprised mostly of tracks from his last two releases. ‘Little Piece Of Trash’, from this year’s EP ‘Big Fugitive Life’, stirs the crowd slightly from their afternoon slumbers. But older favourites ‘Lousy Connection’ and ‘Body Was Made’ batter them into full-blown party mode.
In fact, with every tortured howl, every sideways wink at the audience, the cross-dressing singer further cements his status as a brilliant festival performer. He might not be convinced himself – “we never used to play festivals. Didn’t change what we do enough.” But when Furman drops to his knees, fingers waggling at the crowd, as during the standout ‘Walk On In Darkness’, the place goes wild.
The sound and vibe of Furman’s rip-roaring show certainly evokes images of a bygone era. Even his gentle charisma is reminiscent of a young David Bowie. But his unabashed commitment to being himself feels so personal, and completely unique. And that’s what makes him a truly tantalising live prospect. The blue-haired punk might have played his first note to an empty tent, but by the last frantically strummed power chord the place is full, and buzzing.