November 24: The Fiery Furnaces

Though my first live experience with The Fiery Furnaces, their reputation for bombastic, frenetic long-jam style shows had preceded them through word of mouth from friends, and the litany of web outlets espousing the virtue (and confusion) of the experience. As a finally to round out a November loaded with excellent rock shows, this one was one that I anticipated the most. I first fell in love with the Friedbergers and their complex compositions, often littered with nonsensical, dreamy lyrics when I heard 2007's Widow City. The fluid, medley-style marking the first half of the album instantly sold me on their greatness. I had heard them before, but that album made a lasting impression. So great that I blogged about the band previously here. And with this year's release of I'm Going Away, easily their most accessible album since Gallowsbird's Bark, showcasing such amazing, pop-driven new Fiery Furnaces tracks, I could not have been more excited to see them live, on stage, in the intimacy of the Bluebird Theater.

But first, opening band Young Coyotes played a strong set of songs focused on death, destruction and fear. Composed of Denver locals Adam Halferty and Zach Tipton, the vocals sound vaguely like Sting during the Police, or just post-Police years, and drum-work is exceptional. The songs are worth picking up, now available in two digital EPs on the band's website. They remind me of Guster, with more power, more reverb, more anger, and less sugar. And they are two truly hilarious guys. The banter, between the two, and with the audience nicely broke up what seemed to be a tense night. There were brief utterances that this was their "last show," but there's no indication of that on the band's various web pages.

Then, comes the long awaited moment. Eleanor and Matthew taking the stage, complex and sudden guitar riffs, speak-sung lyrics, heavy drumbeats and brilliant pedal work as they tear off the first 4 tracks from Widow City (excepting "The Philadelphia Grand Jury"). Technically speaking, they are the best band I've seen all month. Matthew's guitar work is beyond impressive. It's awe-inspiring and jaw dropping. His ability to break beat, tear off a 4 measure, high-speed solo with the pedal on, then tap that pedal back, and bring everything back to a slow pace, quietly filling as rhythm is amazing. The Fiery Furnaces are defined by these difficult, up-pace/down-pace, quick change compositions, but actually seeing them played live gives them a whole new value. Matt's hand literally went into a full blur (to which my drinking beer may also have contributed) numerous times while he shred the strings for only a moment. As someone who plays guitar competently, but not excellently (read: relatively lay-person) that's fucking incredible. Eleanor's ability to keep pace with all these changes, happening live, and hold the lyrics close and sing them strong is equally impressive. She has an incredible presence and a strong, beautiful voice live. There's no question that she's happy performing live, even as low-key as her style appears.

The surprise in this show came in the way the set list went down. It was as straightforward as any show I'd seen all month. Nothing like the chaotic presentation touted by friends and media, the Furnaces simply played their songs brilliantly, with minor changes to only two or three. And, the stage-theatrics were utterly moot. Every song seemed more artistically played then raucously played, as this show lacked the large personalities of Art Brut or the bombast of Dirty Projectors. The Friedbergers came off as elder statesmen of indie rock, playing confidently with a sturdy pride and not an inkling of a need for theatrics. While this changed the energy of the show, and closed my November concert going with a rocking, but mature note, it is also a great testament to a vastly talented, journey band giving its audience exactly what it wants: an epic show.

Side note: As the 3rd 16+ show at 'bird for me this month, this one was the most high school-heavy. Excellent youth showing its love of The Fiery Furnaces; the kids are alright.

Photos courtesy of Stepan Mazurov. Check out his Flickr photostream.

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