Monday, March 06, 2006

Live Review: The Fiery Furnaces

A little over a week ago, Mardi Gras was in full swing here in St. Louis. As one who has been to the "real" Mardi Gras, I don't really think what we have here in St. Louis is comparable. Sure, there are plenty of beads, and boobies a-plenty, but the partying and drunken interaction here in St. Louis just seems to be much more mean-spirited. I don't think it is very funny to try and injure women with flying bead projectiles launced at full speed at their faces. I also think the drunken guy who decides that it is necessary to fight because someone in a large crowd bumped into him is the lowest form of life on the plant. So, I decided to forgo these festivities for a much more stimulating experience: seeing The Fiery Furnaces live at the Mississippi Nights!

The Fiery Furnaces is composed of siblings Matt and Eleanor Friedberger, and is one of the most unpredictable bands in indie rock today. To help illustrate this point, I offer their latest album Rehearsing My Choir: an especially inaccessible piano opera starring the Friedbergers' grandmother. Even as someone who appreciates music that other people don't seem to get at all, I was intimidated by Rehearsing My Choir. I thought "What if I don't get it?" Then I'd have to admit that I was not nearly as pretentious as I would have liked to believe. While it is difficult to curl up and really enjoy emotionally, it is an aesthetically pleasing album, at least for me. I do, however, enjoy envisioning what the brainstorming session that led to this album must have been like.

"So, Eleanor, our last album was sufficiently complicated and difficult, but was pretty much universally loved in the indie community. Where do we go from here to make sure that there is no way a mainstream audience will ever like us."

"Well, Matt, how about having a guest star on the album that can only help drive us in a direction that no one will like."

"But who to get, Eleanor? Ben Gibbard? No, everyone loves the Postal Service. Conor Oberst? No, he's much too good looking. George W. Bush? No, then not even I would like us. Wait, I've got it! Grandma!"

"Matt, that's it! No one will get it! To the studio, and bring the Ensure!"

Okay, maybe it's funnier in my head. The opening band of the evening was a Chicago group called Sybris. Their brand of rock was quite emotive and ethereal. I expect great things from this group. They were followed by a Louisiana duo called Deadboy and the Elephant Man. When they came out, I expected a White Stripes-esque bluesy sound, but they had a unique sound all their own. I have to admit, I couldn't help but stare at the drummer. My buddy Matt and I were both like, "Whoa." As you can see from this pic - super hot. By the way, if you couldn't tell, I didn't take that one. They cancelled their photo shoot with me. Bastards. She was definately a much more agressive drummer than Meg White, so I give them props for that.

Despite the strong performaces from the opening bands, everyone was quite ready for the Furnaces to take the stage. I have been a huge fan of their piano driven yet sufficiently complicated indie pop since their first full length Blueberry Boat, and I was expecting their live sound to be pretty comparable to their album sound. I was totally wrong, however, as all of their songs had been reworked live to include absolutely no piano at all! This was soley a guitar oriented show, and the audience was gonna like it, or else! I am quite familliar with all of thier releases, but in many cases it would take me a minute to realize what song they were playing, as they often sound completely different live played only with guitars.

Eleanor was in top form, either slinging a guitar or leaving the duties to her brother. Her vocals were dead on, and seemed to be sincerely enthusiastic. The show, overall, seemed to be a totally different side of the Furnaces, one I had never seen. Instead of amazing you with the intricate arrangements and complicated melodies of their songs, they were going to bash you over the head with the same songs turned up to eleven! It's not often that bands go through the trouble of giving you a completely different type of experience when you see them live. It was not what I was expecting, but after the first few songs I really got into it! Even their live show challenges their fans, by asking them to see the songs they already know by heart in a totally different way.

If you have a chance to see The Fiery Furnaces live, I strongly recommend it. They put on the kind of enthusiastic show that you don't see too often. And it's even less often that you see a band who is willing to reinvent themselves on stage. Well done, guys!


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