The Fiery Furnaces at Plush, June 3, 2008
by Scott Denton (Monday Afternoon Music Mix)
Brother and sister Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger form the creative nucleus of The Fiery Furnaces. Multi-instrumentalist Matt writes the music and many of the lyrics. Vocalist Eleanor contributes words for certain songs and on others the lyrics are a collaborative effort. Hailing from suburban Chicago, the siblings moved to Brooklyn in 2000 and began playing as The Fiery Furnaces, accompanied by a shifting roster of band mates over the years. Robert D'Amico (drums) and, interestingly, the String Cheese Incident's Kyle Hollingsworth (keys) join them on the current tour.
Revealing influences like Spector, The Beatles, Beefheart, and The Who, their audaciously ambitious yet unpretentious music blends elements such as 60s-style pop, garage rock, and musical theatre with unpredictable tempo changes and delightfully erratic arrangements. Quirky lyrics convey narratives woven from disparate ideas such as family memories, dreamlike fantasy, and noir plotlines—often in the same song. Sounds heady, but they rock. As the Friedbergers’ confidence and musicianship, as well as the caliber of their band mates steadily improved -over the course of the four performances I saw in ’04 and ’05, their performances went from very good to formidable. Although known for playing entire sets as nonstop suites and constantly rearranging their material, the band has recently been presenting more song oriented set lists.
As prolific as they are idiosyncratic, The Fiery Furnaces have released six albums in the last five years and will deliver a 51-song live record, entitled Remember, in August. Their most recent release, Widow City, came out last year on Thrill Jockey. The Plush show will be their first in Tucson since September 2005.