Ask a random person on the street about Brooklyn sibling band The Fiery Furnaces, and you will be met with a blank stare. But for nearly ten years, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger have been the darlings of the art rock intelligentsia and quite a few more diverse fringy people as well.
The Freidbergers are the product of a musical, creative family and their output has shown an infuriating insistance on reshuffling and exploring, in defiance of stylistic category.
As with their recorded output, The Friedbergers’ live outings have ranged from spare to bombastic with shifting side players. They have also been responsible for one of the most chopped n’ screwed live albums ever, Remember – a sort of collage of live source tapes. Wednesday’s partially-seated duo show – just Eleanor, Matthew and an electric piano – sold out quickly and drew a lively multi-generational crowd.
As a listener who has found the group somewhat impenetrable, I was eager to catch the flavor of this intimate date and try to get the essence of their intense and broad appeal.
I was more than justly rewarded. The Fiery Furnaces stripped down are revealed as a private universe of neurotic genius made public – sort of like the music the twins in Vonnegut’s Slapstick might have made. They are defined by a verbose, stacatto storytelling approach, delivered mostly by Eleanor, and a soulful, intense immersion into their songs. Matthew’s piano, wandering, varying from delicate to thick-fingered, provided a smoky, muted backdrop.
However, they provide a strong measure of humor and goodwill, and invite the audience into their chiding, familial relationship. Allusions to an “indie” Carpenters are understandable, but off-target. If anything, there is a McGarrigle-like quality about them – in their wavelength and skewed narratives.
Eleanor’s voice even resembles a lower, rawer Martha Wainright. She was clearly very happy to be in the presence of such happy fans – who cheered the opening bars of songs from their entire catalog, even the album their grandmother sang on.
The Fiery Furnaces don’t seem like the most relationally natural people, but they returned their fans’ enthusiasam with a generous and warm-hearted set.