The Fiery Furnaces at Studio B

Post Author: Jeremy Krinsley

Matt Friedberger’s solo project last year in the guise of the double album Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School seemed initially like an indulgent excursion into the weirder depths of the fiery Friedberger aesthetic of conscious experimentalism, employing mellotron and delay-heavy drum machines to dive through a vaguely connected concept album about said language school, through a swamp of time signatures that muddled in a sort of undetectable circle (are we lost? have we been here before?). Perhaps last summer’s journey was a necessary breather from his more immediately tenable work with the Fiery Furnaces. But seeing his band live tonight I was reminded how weird Bitter Tea is, (their most recent album, which they reinterpreted on Sunday night and and proceeded to rip through).

The truth is there’s hardly been a song in their catalogue that makes it straight-faced through its three to six minute course without a few blips and breaks in the pop veneer its inert weirdness hides behind.

In an interview I did with the brother Friedberger last summer for Sentimentalist, he mentioned that his next studio venture (post Winter Women/Holy Ghost) would have something to do with 70s rock. The band (in both sound and style) never seem too far from wailing 70s guitar solos, and indeed, last time I saw the Furnaces, Matt seemed to spend most of the time ripping out gain-heavy lines. This time though, he never left the confines of his organ, leaving guitar duty to Jason Lowenstein (Sebadoh). The use of Michael Goodman on auxiliary percussion seemed to recall Matt Friedberger’s muttered promises to Billboard about an Afro Beat album (a promise he brushed aside during my interview). Ultimately, there were no clear signposts demarcating the band’s flawlessly delivered turns through 12-tone, prog, blues, free jazz and whatever else I’m unqualified to quantify, and as always, I was left partly gawking, partly trying to count time signatures. For the faint hearted math-haters, the band’s virtuosity was also surface level. Matt’s organ abilities border on virtuosic, scaling the keys in flawless arpeggios, spot on, tuckered percussive hits, and Eleanor (lest we forget) is ever-poised, spitting out the Furnace’s signature heavily weighted verbiage and, according to Mr. Black Tee Shirt, she messed up only once. (I certainly didn’t notice).