all words and photos: Francis Chung
Next time The Fiery Furnaces stage a concert in DC, local fans may have an opportunity to be the stars of the show. The Brooklyn-based indie-rock band has recently announced plans for a (presumably Fluxus-inspired) “Silent Record” comprised of musical notation and event scores for a set of new compositions that will not be recorded, but rather realized at a series of “Fan-Band concerts” during which (pre-screened) groups will be invited to perform their own interpretations of the songs. For the time being, though, The Fiery Furnaces are still handling their own live-performance duties, and Saturday night’s thoroughly enjoyable show at the Black Cat certainly set the bar high for all of the officially-sanctioned surrogate bands to come.
Siblings Eleanor Friedberger (lead vocals) and Matthew Friedberger (guitar/vocals), joined by Jason Lowenstein (bass) and Bob D’Amico (drums), played a rousing 80-minute set that featured a perhaps surprisingly, though also refreshingly, stripped-down and straightforward aesthetic, considering the band’s lofty conceptual ambitions and often complex recordings. The set list featured a generous selection of songs from the group’s latest release, “I’m Going Away” (Thrill Jockey Records), and the band consistently delivered tight, vigorous renditions of standout songs such as the nostalgically retro-rock sounding “Lost at Sea” and the soulful “The End Is Near.” Along with the newer material, older favorites such as “Ex-Guru” and “Leaky Tunnel” were played with dynamic immediacy, and the highpoint of the show was arguably the inspired, encore-closing performance of “Here Comes the Summer,” as Eleanor’s vocals resonated powerfully and poignantly, while Matthew seemed to revel in a traditional rock guitarist’s role.
Earlier, the evening began with an energetic opening set by Screens, a quartet from Brooklyn that was definitely not lacking in enthusiasm, especially from the kinetic lead singer (Breck, formerly from the APES-ed), who flailed exuberantly around the stage, at times encroaching on the personal space of nearby audience members to a degree that caused at least one young couple to retreat further back into the club. Their set was followed by an engaging performance by Wye Oak, a Baltimore-based duo featuring Jenn Wasner on voice and guitar, and Andy Stack on drums and keyboard. During noise-inflected indie-folk songs like “Milk and Honey” and “Family Glue,” Stack’s understated rhythms perfectly complemented Wasner’s lush vocals and mesmeric guitar playing, and the band’s minimalist, yet nuanced sound aptly set the stage for the direct, unadorned pleasures provided by The Fiery Furnaces.