With dark lips, an all-black outfit, and shaggy hair hanging in front of her eyes for nearly the entire night at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, Ezra Furman was the very “transangelic” image of the aesthetics that dictate her very honest, very loud, very vast and very superb discography.
Most recently, more mainstream audiences have been introduced to Furman as the musician behind the soundtrack for Netflix’s “Sex Education.” Furman’s multitudes, however, were on full display at the concert — in the 21-song set, only two were featured in “Sex Education.” Most were pulled from her most recent album, Twelve Nudes, and the album that preceded it, Transangelic Exodus. Her endeavors as of late have taken on a rougher, punk edge both sonically and lyrically — it’s these endeavors that dominated her performance.
Furman opened with “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” wasting no time in showing off her screaming vocals. Although studio recordings feature a more polished finish to her singing, the vocals of her live act were of a different texture: hoarse, coarse, a little strangled. Amazingly enough, she pulled it off with no hitches. Her singing rarely erred on the side of nonsensical — as punk-adjacent acts are wont to do — and even when they did, it was clear that the roughness was all part of the intended aesthetic.
An aesthetic which, visually, was rather cute. Frontwoman Furman was an all-black divinity, but her band members wore matching, bright red jumpsuits that contrasted nicely with her outfit. And fittingly, the jumpsuits were just about the only uniformity present at the show.
It was clear to anyone watching that Furman’s performance was as much personal catharsis as it was entertainment for her fans. The live take on “No Place” saw her thrashing about the stage with her hands in her hair, shaking her head and body viciously before darting to the microphone and belting, “I found out on a Monday the city I love doesn’t love me.” And after a particularly angry song, Furman huffed, shook her head and smiled as she declared, “I needed that!”
At the show’s halfway mark, Furman put the screaming vocals on the shelf for a moment. She introduced “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” a song she likened to old-fashioned ballads on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” because that’s the kind of music she associates with desire. On desire, Furman spoke about being transgender and about wanting to be seen for who she is. When she segued into the song itself, which candidly addresses her gender identity, it was with a voice more tender than anything she had showcased previously or would showcase afterward.
With Twelve Nudes being such a political album, Furman underscored these looming ideas by reminding her audience to vote. Her music is personal in its confrontation of an unjust society, and the night’s energy proved that this holds a special place in the hearts of her fans. Never did the persistent singing along cease, and songs such as “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” and “Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere,” which starkly discuss aspects of being transgender, elicited some of the night’s most enthusiastic cries.
Furman, herself a skilled guitarist, only let go of her instrument for one song, otherwise devoted to showing off her guitar-playing chops and ability to scream-sing so gracefully in tandem. After Furman emerged for the encore, a concertgoer who’d been shouting “F— it up!” all night repeated their line, and Furman grinned, finally verbally acknowledging them with, “Best person in the crowd, still here. Oh, we’re gonna f— it up.”
As she delved right into the explosive, concluding with “What Can You Do But Rock ‘n’ Roll,” it wasn’t hard to see why that concertgoer had been shouting all night.
Highlights: “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” “No Place,” “What Can You Do But Rock ‘n’ Roll”