One of the many highlights of Jeffrey Lewis and the Jackals’ performance at the Hotel Utah last Sunday night was a song that examined the history of Communism’s emergence in North Korea in a brisk and melodic fashion, which Lewis sang as he turned pages of an accompanying oversized comic book he’d drawn. With that fact in mind, you can decide whether to continue reading this review. My experience in championing the music and art of Jeffrey Lewis is that people make their minds up pretty quickly and decisively about his work, so if you are a fan of wordy lo-fi folk-rock with a touch of nervous vulnerability and self-deprecating humor, you will surely appreciate his creative genius.

[audio:] Jack and Jeffrey Lewis – Posters

Jeffrey Lewis emerged from the New York antifolk scene alongside The Moldy Peaches, whose championing helped get him noticed by Rough Trade, where he’s released three excellent albums of original material and, most recently, a collection of 12 Crass Songs. While he’s been touring seemingly nonstop over the past couple of years, his band has only had a few appearances in the Bay, with this being their first since Noise Pop.

Sunday’s show was loose and had a relaxed, freeform feel, with Lewis, his brother Jack, and drummer Dave Beauchamp alternating between older tracks and new material, alongside Crass covers (like an energetic take on “Do They Owe Us A Living?”) and short “films” about Barack Obama and a detective story. The older stuff was drawn primarily from City & Eastern Songs, with great performances of rocking tracks “Posters” and “Art Land” and quieter ones “Anxiety Attack” and “Don’t Be Upset”. With so many great songs in their catalogue, I wish their set would’ve been a bit longer, but I’m optimistic that they’ll be back soon.

[audio:] Sonny Smith – “Curtis on the Corner”

[audio:] Sonny Smith – “Day in the Life of a Heel”

Local singer-songwriter Sonny Smith’s band Sonny and the Sunsets kicked off the show just two nights after opening for Honeycut at the Great American Music Hall. Perhaps in contrast to that environment, the band proclaimed its Sunday set “sloppy cas[ual]”. Despite the self-effacing moniker, the trio played some extremely catchy songs with a timeless garage rock-pop feel. By what I’d previously heard off Smith’s 2006 album Fruitvale, I’d pegged him as more akin to the offbeat acoustic songwriting of Jonathan Richman, but his band’s Sunday set squeezed a ton of rock from their stripped down (two voices, two electric guitars and drums) approach. It was a really enjoyable set, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for a new record.