Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces walked on stage at the Scala Thursday night and said, more or less, ‘Hi, thanks for coming, now we’re going to play a lot of songs. Really fast. Without stopping.” And then they did just that. For 25 minutes, a completely insane freakout medley of familiar and unfamiliar tracks, drifting in and out, cut and pasted together, repeated, changing direction and driving fast like a mutherfucker. Eleanor had a thousand mile stare like she could see the end of the musicl tunnel and was aiming to get there as fast as she could. Very odd. Songs that were slow, melodic and quirky on their album, Gallowsbird’s Bark, were suddenly fast, pounding (thanks to Keith Moon’s spiritual son on drums – playing fills and rolls like an orangutan on speed) and intensely aggressive. The folk-twinged, storytellingly melodic feel of the album was suddenly a full-on post punk explosion. It was like being transported to the late 1970s or very early 1980s, to CBGBs in New York, and watching some bizarre supergroup of the Talking Heads and Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and about half a dozen others (a bit of Howlin’ Wolf, Peter Townsend, Hendrix as well as the organ player from every single American baseball game – Matt Friedberger really loves his electronic organ). Great, if a bit hard to get into. Just when you recognised a track, it was over. Nonetheless, when the medly ended, the audience went ballistic with applause, so something was working.
The other thing about this brother and sister duo from Chicago via New York was that almost every track on their album had been reworked and rearranged – in some cases, the melody was unrecognisable apart from Eleanor’s singing. Obviously easily bored and intensely proficient musicians, this meant some favourites were not quite as good as the album version while others were better, but you couldn’t ignore them. They didn’t fuck around, didn’t have a lot of time for conversation and almost didn’t do an encore (the house music came on briefly twice before Matt and Eleanor Friedberger came back on and performed a few more tracks by themselves – including a stunning version of ‘Sweet’, which is exquisite on their album but was heartbreaking live).
I wasn’t sure how to describe The Fiery Furnaces’ sound before I saw them live and now I’m even less certain. In interviews, Matt Friedberger has said ‘I really like that — that sort of a kitchen sink approach, very busy, playful’. Suffice to say they knew what they were doing. We just had to trust them. And I’m glad we did. Listen to their album and, if you like it, see them live – you’ll be glad you did too.
Oh and support acts Moo (or something like that – tell us who you are, and clearly, otherwise you’ll never be famous) and Sons and Daughters were shite. Sorry, but they were. So there.
8 Zesty Points out of a possible 11 (minus 1 for the uber-trendy crowd, my splitting headache and the shite support – not the band’s fault, but I’m feeling petty today).
Originally appeared on www.PopEx.com