“I feel like the kid who took over the opera house,” said Ezra Furman, struggling to believe that anyone would allow a depressive indie guy in a dress to occupy the spotlight at a prestigious arts centre. The Barbican is hosting a celebration of the 20th birthday of the Chicago musician’s record label, Bella Union – not his natural habitat, he repeated, while still coming up with a unique, memorable show.
Without the usual audience chatter and without his backing band, The Boy-Friends, he was starkly exposed, initially just with an acoustic guitar and his prickly lyrics on display. On The Queen of Hearts, he sang in his scratchy, wiry voice of “the Starbucks they built inside my heart”.
Later he was joined by a pianist, a string quartet and fellow solo artist Beth Jeans Houghton. A very different set-up from the mix of ragged punk, rock and roll, doo wop and honking sax that has made his most recent album, Perpetual Motion People, such a cult favourite, but his awkward charm still held the room. As he sang Day of the Dog’s call for the eventual triumph of the outcasts and the strange, it felt like he was already living a deserved golden moment.