The Fiery Furnaces
We waited like school children, scrutinizing the clock’s second hand, poised and ready to jump out of our chairs and play in the warm sun waiting outside. Packed tightly into Webster Hall, I hear an “ahhhhhh” as the stage backdrop—a black canopy with hundreds of tiny white Christmas lights—blinks to life and the audience is transported into the throes of a warm summer night. When the band hits the stage they waste no time picking up their instruments; story time begins. For the next fifty minutes, I, and everyone around me, smile, bobbing and weaving to sung sonnets about pirates, dogs, lost lockets, and honey bees, as indie music’s most precocious (real) siblings, The Fiery Furnaces, rock the house and claim stake of their playground.
Before we go any further, let it be known that I am not a card carrying member of the Furnace fan club. I’m still working through my feelings about Blueberry Boat. Ever since that first listen, every time I find myself engulfed in their enigmatic lyrics and catchy hooks they pull the carpet from beneath me and I find myself all tangled up. And all those Tommy comparisons are not only off base, they’re becoming obnoxious. The duo, Eleanor and Matt Friedberger, certainly have something to prove; approaching this show I hope to see something live that I have yet to find in their albums.
And they deliver.
Producing an engaging live show from a polished and well produced recorded product is never an easy task, especially when most of your new material clocks in around the eight minute mark. In answer to this predicament the band takes a novel approach to their live set: they play snippets of songs. And they don’t stop. Thirty plus songs are thrown at us like an ugly food fight, as songs start up, get cut off and sometimes show up again twenty five minutes later. It is a verbose stream of consciousness, like scraps of a person’s diary flashed across your face as fast paced animation.
Familiar sounding taser blips fly from the speakers and I instinctively grab for my Atari controller. It becomes clear that, as children, somebody was swapping these Friedberger kids’ Ritalin with Flintstones chewables—they rarely take a breath to bask in the school yard cheers. The Fiery Furnaces play at such sheer velocity, I almost expect their parents to yell from the rafters ordering them to cut the racket and get to bed. The sounds soar through peaks and valleys, but it is the voice of the Fiery Furnaces that carries this show.
What can I say about Eleanor? Dressed in leather cowboy boots, a retro white summer shirt and a pair of jeans painted on her legs, she looms over this stage. Her hair hangs over her eyes and I am convinced she makes eye contact with nobody in particular. She sings with the conviction of a petulant girl pleading her innocence to her mother; a girl determined to be heard, if not understood. Her voice comes alive when she approaches the microphone, but she is all business. My friend compares her to a modern Grace Slick, but she never lets her voice float far from her grasp. She maintains her instrument with a control reminiscent of a Jeff Buckley. Not in terms of sound and certainly not in range, but in the ability to navigate her pitch through the wall of sound. Her band’s sound doesn’t require her voice to soar yet, but I am convinced she will only get better in time.
The touring band leaves the stage after forty five minutes and brother and sister are left alone. They play a couple new songs—“Teach Me, Sweetheart” and “I’m Waiting to Know You”—as Eleanor shyly admits these songs sound better with their grandmother, who has been reported as singing beside her kin on their next release.
When newly renamed dios malos hits the stage as an opening act, few people are aware that they are the band rather than sound guys putting the finishing touches on the band’s gear. Dressed in sweatshirts and flannels, they are one of the more unassuming “rock bands” I have seen in a long time.
They are talkative throughout their set, asking fans to hang out with them after the show and buy them some drinks at a nearby watering hole. They play a beautiful set of California-style, sullen, power pop; old fans seem pleased and new ones are anointed. When lead singer Joel Morales launches into the beautiful “Nobody’s Perfect”, he takes the liberty to swig off his Budwesier and skip an entire verse, but nobody’s perfect, and besides, no one seems to mind. The band covers this intentional miscue with a beautiful guitar driven bridge and Morales smiles, playing to his audience.
When he pours some of his beer into his palm and begins to slick back his hair, I have had enough. “Who does this guy think he is?”, I ask myself, and I am reminded why I hate musicians—because I’ve always wanted to be one.