Standing behind a clear perspex podium, sporting some fresh facial hair and holding one of the most battered-looking gee-tars in the business, lo-fi ‘anti-folk‘ hero Jeffrey Lewis apologised to a packed crowd in the Latitude Festival’s Poetry Arena for the last-minute cancellation of his eagerly-awaited lecture on the seminal comic-book, Watchmen. It was scheduled to take place earlier that day and – after providing a grim, poignant and sometimes harrowing account of why he couldn’t make it – Lewis offered to make up for his regrettable no-show by doing something rather special after the gig:
He’d sit under a tree and “blabber on” about Watchmen to anyone who might want to listen.
Which, of course, is just the sort of thing you’d expect Jeffrey Lewis to do. Lewis, in case you don’t know, is a singer-songwriter and comic-book artist from New York who combines the two disciplines to great effect. His songs and spoken word pieces are delivered in an idiosyncratic, fast-talking style and many of them feature his comic-strips as an accompaniment (he calls them “low-budget videos”). The bulk of his late-night acoustic set consisted of brand-new, straight-out-of-the-oven songs that had yet to be field-tested in front of a live audience. The fresh material dealt with grim, poignant and sometimes harrowing stuff, but – thanks to his endearing awkwardness, fiendishly-clever wordplay and self-deprecating humour – the gig was anything but a downer.
New converts were won over with a cover of Pink Floyd’s Sheep and a painfully-funny gangsta rap about killing mosquitoes, subject matters that were bound to strike a chord with the Latitude set. Old fans, meanwhile, were treated to his poignant back-catalogue favourite, When I Was 4, which reduced many of them to blubbering wrecks. By the time this wonderful little gig was over, most of us had forgotten about the promise Lewis made at the beginning of the set. After a long and exhausting day – with another Latitude set lined up for Sunday afternoon – no reasonable person could expect him to waste time searching for a vacant tree so he could sit under it and “blabber on” about his favourite comic book.
So he held an impromptu post-gig Watchmen Q&A outside the Poetry Arena, instead.