Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fierys Excel Live!

The Fiery Furnaces, Barfly, Birmingham, Friday November 9 2007, 9.15pm.

The last time your crocked correspondent saw The Fiery Furnaces his arm was in a sling in what was then a fashionable wrist fracture. Tonight the limbs are all cosily correct and present, and have the added company of Ben, Jenni, Alison and The Prykemeister, for a gig that's perhaps not been as hotly-anticipated as expected given the sparse attendance which gives the Barfly tonight a cold, cavernous feel.

So maybe there's a touch of sarcasm in singer Eleanor Friedberger's voice when she advises that this could be the best night of her life, though there seems genuine warmth when she invites the collected audience to get right close to the stage so she can see our smiles. Thus the thrill of a packed house is replaced by the sensation of implied intimacy, something that no doubt would appeal to the average Fiery Furnaces fan given their cultish allure.

Eleanor and brother/songwriter/keyboard player Matthew are accompanied by Jason Lohwenstein on guitars and Bob D'Amico on drums and between them they manage a phat and feisty groove that helps propel their perverse and skittish material into the live arena. Eleanor's vocals are a large part of the band's appeal on record even if that isn't always reflected in the production mix, but in the flesh she dominates attention from the word go. All fringe, nose and jaw she's physically a curious combo of Zelda, Ringo Starr and Patti Smith and yet so much more compellingly attractive than that hotch-potch collage might sound. If she's pissed at the turnout it doesn't show in a performance where she seems at once lost in the music and yet passionately embracing every opportunity to connect with the audience through her smiling eyes and bewitching enthusiasm.

The first half of the set is almost exclusively taken from this autumn's Widow City collection, arguably their most consistently pleasing effort since their barnstorming debut Gallowsbird's Bark. Album opener 'The Philadelphia Grand Jury' is also used here to get things going, slowly but surely weaving the listener into their weird and twisted world, while there's also strong showings from 'Navy Nurse', 'Right By Conquest' and 'Restorative Beer'. 'My Egyptian Grammar' puts the high into hieroglyphics, while even the curious omission of the keyboard motif can't put your home-loving hack off his favourite 'Japanese Slippers'. Further into the set there's room for a couple of tracks from the unfairly-neglected 'Rehearsing My Choir', 'Single Again' morphs in and out of 'Don't Dance Me Down' (or is it the other way around?) while a call for requests elicits perhaps their best-known song 'Tropical Iceland' to be extracted from 'Gallowsbird's Bark'.

After the show, Eleanor is in engaging form with the fans that hang by. The Prykemeister tells her she's going to be a big star one day and gets his photo taken with her like the prime schmoozer he is. This just leaves time for a quick pint in The Anchor before catching the train, a brief but memorable Eruption* courtesy of the buxom barmaid giving full and satisfying meaning to the term 'restorative beer'...

*calm down, dear reader, this is simply a guest real ale courtesy of the Salopian Brewery!

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Blogger Ben said...

Gradually getting more into the album as a whole. At first it was bemusing but over the course of a couple of listens last night it started to make more sense.

My gig review's up now, too. Not like you to beat me to the punch...

I could do with a restorative beer right now.

8:42 PM  

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