Saturday, March 06, 2004

The Fiery Furnaces: Eleanor feigns interest as brother Matthew fakes a fashionable wrist fractureCinders, You Shall Go To The Ball

The Fiery Furnaces/The Blueskins/Mad Action at Birmingham Bar Academy, February 23.

As part of my rehabilitation into the big outside world following my fractured forearm, I went to see one of my favourite new bands, The Fiery Furnaces at Birmingham Bar Academy. It was my first time at the venue (otherwise known as Academy 3) which is basically the upstairs room of a pub a few doors down from the main Carling Academy venue. It's a similar size to the Little Civic but with the addition of trendy square sofas and a couple of pool tables to the rear. There was a fashionable (if not particularly young) crowd in attendance but I felt a little less self-conscious about turning up in my sling when I saw a lad sitting in a wheelchair to the side of the stage.

I was taking advantage of a square sofa (hmm...soft furnishings) when first band Mad Action came on, but apparently I didn't miss much in the way of visual spectacle as they were just two blokes and a white box. Still, they made an energetic and tuneful start despite the fact they basically have two types of songs - ones that sound like Jesus And Mary Chain (no wonder BRMC like 'em) and those that sound like Smashing Pumpkins. I enjoyed the former enough to buy their 10-track maxi-single TEAC Attack but that was a mistake as this proved a dissappointingly half-assed effort - I'd have rather had an ep of 3 tracks which they'd actually, y'know, finished or something.

I got up on my feet to see The Blueskins whose high-energy fusion of Britpop, blues and rockabilly was reminiscent of Supergrass before their hair receded. They went down well with the crowd and I enjoyed their set, but I didn't feel sufficiently inspired to buy any of their records. The Blueskins will no doubt enliven many a mid-afternoon outdoor festival slot in the future, but let's hope they don't get promoted above themselves like Stereophonics did, as we will surely then learn to despise them.

Things were therefore sufficiently warmed up for The Fiery Furnaces to enter the fray, who responded to the challenge set by their lively support acts by launching into half-a-dozen new songs off their upcoming second album Blueberry Boat (due out on Rough Trade by September this year) before injecting almost indecent haste in rattling off spunked-up tracks from their brilliant Gallowsbird's Bark debut with barely a moment in between to catch their breath. Near enough 20 tracks in just under an hour of ferociously intense oddball tunefulness then, with 'Leaky Tunnel' and latest single 'Tropical Ice-Land' the standouts.

With their brother/sister dynamics The Furnaces (as they're known to their friends) have understandably drawn comparisons to The White Stripes and maybe even The Kills, but they're a much different and more interesting proposition than those contemporaries. Their psychedelic, literate and undeniably poppy slant on folk and blues synthesises their influences into something which sounds both fresh and familiar, and yet uniquely their own. You've also got to give them credit for their fantastically surreal and witty lyrics, and the emergence of Eleanor Friedberger as a formidable frontwoman, her distinctive vocals despatched with the beguiling mix of confidence and insecurity of someone not yet aware of just how hot she is. Which you have to admit, is pretty unusual for a band from New York.

If you think you're too cool for The Fiery Furnaces then be prepared to be left out in the cold, frostbitten fingers tapping forlornly at the window while they provide the rest of us with their own unique brand of central heating for the soul. So make sure you get there early for the upcoming Franz Ferdinand tour of the UK, where they'll be lending support.


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