Not enough Fiery Furnaces on this site for you yet? We sent out Matt and Joel to capture the performance last night at the Black Cat. Relive the magic. Or… sleight of hand.
I should probably preface this review by saying that I have limited experience with The Fiery Furnaces. I only own their first two albums (Gallowsbird’s Bark and Blueberry Boat) and while I enjoy them both, I’ve never really been able to full immerse myself into their music. The album they made with their grandmother, Rehearsing My Choir, was just far too strange for me and I guess I sort of wrote the band off after that. I did see them live once, however, at Coachella in 2005, and really enjoyed that show, so despite my non-love for their albums, I was somewhat excited to see what a Fiery Furnaces headlining show might have in store for me.
Less than a minute into their set, I had encountered my first surprise, the Fiery Furnaces are loud! On record, their music is quiet, avant-garde indie pop, but live they use a drummer, a percussionist and a guitarist in addition to the two Friedberger siblings to really get their music to rock hard. Given my limited knowledge of their catalog, I wasn’t expecting to know a good chunk of their setlist, but when they didn’t play a single song I knew for the first forty five minutes of the show, I knew something was up. After asking around, I figured out that they were playing their latest album, Bitter Tea, almost in its entirety from beginning to end. The Fiery Furnaces don’t make the most accessible music to begin with, but from what I could gather last night, Bitter Tea takes that inaccessibility to the next level. Gone were the fun pop songs and catchy melodies that I was familiar with, replaced by a much harsher sound and Eleanor Friedberger talk-singing instead of using her unique voice.
The crowd seemed to be growing restless as the band continued through the album and many audience members took the opportunity to head for the exits. Finally, Bitter Tea ended and the band launched into “Single Again” to kick off a set of older tunes mixed with songs from the band’s upcoming album Widow City. This second set relied heavily on songs from Blueberry Boat, including the epic title track and the ten-minute-plus “Quay Cur.” Even these songs seemed to be amped-up from the album versions, and though it probably translated better live, I was somewhat disappointed as it made the songs less dynamic and everything started to sound the same. The band never quite regained the crowd after the questionable start to the set, and fans trickled out slowly throughout the show, even with the band playing its more well-known material. On a positive note, the new songs seemed to hearken back to the band’s early days, but only a few people remained to find that out.