Glasgow’s foremost community radio station dipped into the burgeoning world of house concert hosting this week, opening the doors of their south side studios for an intimate evening with the esteemed Eef Barzelay. A bit of a catch for what might be the first of an occasional series of close up concerts, Barzelay with his band Clem Snide were one of the finest confections to come out of the States in the nineties. His light and resigned voice allied to music that was somewhat akin to a mash up of grungy power pop, folk rock and string quartet, the arrangements complex at times, the lyrics ranging from the confessional to absurd and surreal juxtapositions not unlike those of Robyn Hitchcock. Another in a long line of bands whose name was inspired by the writings of William Burroughs Clem Snide were probably too clever to catch on despite the occasional brush with fame as when their song Moment in the Sun was used as the theme song for a TV series. The band carry on having split and reignited on several occasions while Eef has forged on with his solo recordings creating a devoted fan base via his Bandcamp releases; he’s a prime candidate for The Guardian’s Cult Heroes column.
A canny decision then to have a bona fide cult hero play in your parlour and the cognoscenti responded well. The room filled with people spilling into the hall, those in the front seats almost inches away from the man, a situation Eef explained as we spoke during the interval that he enjoys, much of his time these days spent in concerts like this. A chance to play his songs to his fans out with the promotional circuit, up close, a meet and greet event even though he is no stranger to larger festival crowds still. On these occasions it’s personal, just him and his guitar, the audience transfixed with no bar sounds or coming and going during his sets.
Playing on the intimacy of the occasion Barzelay opened with a joke as he mentioned that he’d heard that Willie Nelson would lock into eye contact with an audience member and play just for her (it was usually a her) as he scanned the front rows before confessing he was kidding. His humour was a large element of the night, self deprecating, oddball and endearing. Humour seeped into some of the songs also but overall this was a master class in songwriting with Barzelay taking subjects on and applying his unique vision. At times reminiscent of the younger Loudon Wainwright particularly when he applied his mournful scat like mock trumpet he regaled the audience with bittersweet love songs recalling walking along Central Avenue high on ecstasy while his song The Ballad Of Bitter Honey (inspired by MTV viewing while on tour) was soaked in Wainwright’s acerbic wit. A new song, Angeline (another song with a TV link, in this instance the US show Catfish) was an anguished and powerful depiction of damaged people.
An accomplished performer and obviously very comfortable in such close quarters Barzelay had the audience in stitches with his coupling of Jews For Jesus Blues, written from his perspective as an Israeli born Jew who sings “fake country music” followed by God Answers Back. Finding an audience member who actually came from San Jose he delivered a wonderful version of Bacharach and David’s Do You Know The Way To San Jose with a bossa nova beat and ran through Elizabeth Cotton’s old chestnut Freight Train with evident delight. He closed the night with his “almost hit” Moment In The Sun capturing the allure and perils of fleeting fame, a perfect summary of his ability to turn a song inside out with neurosis shining through a beautiful tune, before segueing into The Velvet Underground’s Who Needs The Sun, a perfect companion to his own song.
It was a great evening and a great opportunity to see, hear and meet a world class musician. Hopefully Celtic Music radio will continue to plough this not so lonely furrow.