Notes from a New Notebook
Holy Fuck, Fiery Furnaces, Super Furry Animals at the 930 Club
all photos: Rachel Eisley
Bus hit by car.
I just bought this Moleskine notebook on Thursday and that’s the first thing I wrote in it. I’m not sure whether that note has to do with the show I went to on Sunday night at the 930 club or the fact that the bus I was riding Thursday morning got hit by a car while sitting at a light. The experiences were similar, I guess, perfectly safe for me as the observer, risky as hell for the actor, but I was the one who felt upended, upside down on the floor. The primary catalyst for this was the Fiery Furnaces, who occupy a world where snakes attack bug-lamps, and who drew me in so thoroughly that I can’t at all remember the experience. Good thing I have these notes! Let’s see what they say.
Why can’t a live dance song change riffs?
An early complaint about Holy Fuck, I think. When they started playing I wasn’t much in the mood to boogie. I had just gotten off a plane from a conference about Web Accessibility [making websites accessible to people with disabilities] and standing at the security booth while the bouncerette rifled through my dirty underwear had fouled my dancability index. So the first few Holy Fuck songs seemed repetitive and unenlightening, just bass grooves with mid-tempo funk beats and keyboard doodling while the two frontman guys over-emoted like Girltalk. But then Graham started bleating into a Fisher Price microphone laced with metallic distortion, making guitar solo noises and announcing “This song is called FREEBIRD!” And Brian pulled out a melodica-type-thing and plays it with one hand and the tube in his mouth while banging out a techno stab on his sampler with the other. And then they played some songs that actually have several parts, and suddenly I was up front bobbing along, really there at the show instead of bored, locked in a grey room with earnest fingers admonishing my sleepy face.
Like Tangerine Dream bouncing on the one.
Put that shit in the bank.
Strange little man, failed presentation movie. “So I guess I won’t show you the video of the dancing midgets…” [Silence] “That’s the humility.”
Oh crap I guess I got these notes mixed up on alternate pages with my notes from that conference. That was a highlight for sure, one of those moments where the banality burst and became hilarious. Powerpoints are mind-numbing, but when they turn and attack their creators the universe seems for a moment a more ruthlessly equitable system.
Horrible Slide– “This looks like an amusement park!”
Or a flow chart of the river Styx, dude. How do I get back to the concert?
Stolen pen, patchouli-scented over-sized-glasses girl laughs.
Oh that’s right I didn’t have a pen for some reason so I had to steal it from the e-mail sign-up sheet at the merch counter. I probably could have just asked for one, but where’s the intrigue in that? I think that one girl with the 80s over-sized spectacles spotted the theft (maybe there are several of these chicks but I [and our photographers] seem to find them everywhere) and when I moved up front before Fiery Furnaces went on she was up there smelling like patchouli oil and giggling excitedly. The front of the stage was thronged with Ramona Quimbys and Sally J. Freedmans, the awkward too-clever teenage girls who are among the few patient enough to wrangle meaning from this band’s tangled absurdist lyrics.
Obsessed teenage girls only ones who understand what Eleanor is singing, not critics.
Ah I already thought of that! Critics, like this lazy bum from Rolling Stone (http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/album/16684818/review/16695766/widow_city) have often called the Furnaces “weird” or “quirky” or whatever, but in fact are just too lazy to parse the complexities of a truly literary song-writer. Or maybe it’s just because Matthew seems to be poking fun at more serious poetic lyricism (though I don’t know how anyone can disapprove of genius lines like “Or so said the birth-chart I sent away to New Mexico for. / It was made by a special commission of Navajo basketball coaches and blonde ladies…”). A comment review of that Rolling Stone blurb posted by an anonymous over-sized-glasses 80s teenager summed it up perfectly:
“Rolling Stone has aged gracefully, like tripping so hard over your own legs down a flight of stairs that you rev up into a drill-speed spin and you actually screw your way through the floor you land on into the basement. This floor-screwing has been going on for thirty-six years. I’m glad they really don’t understand the lyric they quote here; their writers are actually that stupid. Meanwhile, WOO, Bruce Springsteen, another FIVE STAR record.”
First shot fired in the Chocolate War.
Who’s that on the sound-check?
Yes that’s the band doing their own mike fiddling and keyboard plugging-in unceremoniously and to zero cheers. Eleanor could be a roadie, with her shaggy tough Patti Smith hair and jeans so tight she looks like a praying mantis. Matthew looks like himself, but even though he plays just about every instrument on every album they’ve ever made, his sister gets all the attention during performances and interviews. Well, at least, my attention. She seems like the kind of woman who rarely smiles but laughs deeply and without hesitation at total nonsense, say, a cat in a sailor costume. In other words, Deadly Poison. The drummer and bass player came out and they began.
A step apart…
I wasn’t sure what I meant here, but it sounds like the first line in Gorilla Biscuits “Hold Your Ground.” By the time I caught my balance enough in the utter wildness of the music I guess the first thing I thought of was a late-era hard-core punk band. Maybe I was just so blown away that this band that often sounds so delicately whimsical on record was rocking my pants off. Eleanor cocked one elbow back, stabbing her boot and holding the mike like Mick Jagger. Jason Lowenstein (yes that guy from Sebadoh) made his bass sound like a dirty blues guitar sometimes, or a satanic industrial solo. Bob D’amico, who also plays for Jason’s solo projects, moved between busy Ginger Baker jazz fills and thick Zeppelin beats at the drop of a hat. Matthew mostly played head down, intent on the stack of keys, but every time one of their songs melded suddenly into another he’d look up and smile conspiratorially at the band. I was expecting the songs to be linked up in medleys, but not utterly rewritten. Ex-Guru started out sounding normal, but after the second verse I realized Eleanor was singing Single Again, completely shifting the rhythm of the words and blurring both tracks themes together. What an amazing trick to reinvent yourself every time you record or go on tour and yet remain triumphantly yourself. Perhaps it’s only this version of the Fiery Franchise, but the distorted, wordy, dynamic music I heard deserved a response more like a worshipful harDCore scrum around the singer, pointing, hugging and screaming along with every anthem’s chorus…except instead of straight-edge self-righteousness we’d be joining together over sentiments like, “I bought 22 ounces / from the petrol park, waiting at the light / I’m never going to make it back in time. /So Geraldine and me can begin, / Before Mister Raymond and his Japanese slippers comes creeping in!”
Fat lady’s sad close-captioned movie examples: Lion King, Homeland Security Infomercial, Six and a Half Minutes of Titanic Without Picture
Sometimes the weirdness bleeds into sympathy, as the macabre gargoyles with the laser pointers accidentally let their masks slip. Like in this poem by another confused balding presenter whose projector broke:
Everyone has a disability. / Me? / I’m Vertically Challenged. / Not gonna be a tall guy, so / If the stairs were two feet tall… / Not with these knees, / Too many years of soccer. / But those days / Are long gone.
Could easily be a line from Automatic Husband: “So I went back up to our room / And told my husband to sit down on the end table / and that he was getting very sleepy / And when his eyes went out, I put the pen back in his left hand.”
Demorockracy Now! Gogogogobama!
Okay back to the show. This tour has been billed on their website (http://www.fieryfurnacesforum.com/site/category/ff-news/) as coinciding somehow with the presidential primaries. “We scored a great victory in South Carolina yesterday. Let’s see if we can do the same thing tonight,” Matthew deadpanned in a rare piece of stage banter. How are we supposed to do that? According to the cheek-tonguing manifesto they wrote earlier that day apparently: “Since the Citizen-Fan-Audiences can now get records for Free, via advances in technology (whether bands imagine they are offering them for free or not), it is only fair that CFA’s help bands write songs.” In that spirit I offer up these notes to the community, hopefully someone can make something of them—a Public Service Announcement, or an Instructional Diorama, or a Rock and Roll Album about drunken inaccessibility perhaps. The band closed with a version of Tropical Ice-land, usually a peppy happy pop song but reworked into a Flipper-waving post-punk jam with Eleanor crooning the lyrics over Jason’s roaring bass solo and the drums going apeshit and me banging my head and making devil hands.
Arching rack of indie room meets new cowardice.
That’s the best I can make out at this point, either the pen was running out of ink or I’d had seven too many Seven-and-Sevens. The Super Furry Animals came on and played and they were polite and cute and careful and their songs sounded like they do on record and their accents were adorable and their tunes catchy and everything nice like that. I can see why their rabid fans were standing around gaping at them (doin’ the DC shuffle) but I couldn’t pay attention after the maelstrom I had just witnessed, and I stood in a corner scribbling gibberish for the rest of the show. I’m going to rip those pages out and mail them to the Fiery Furnaces I think, I get the feeling they’d see a whole epic narrative in the ramblings and waste of an average mind.