The Fiery Furnaces
Rockwood Music Hall
Wednesday, May 4
Better than: Steve & Eydie redux.
All the blind alleys the Fiery Furnaces' songs take tend to foreshorten the idea of the group ever putting on a straightforward show. That's before we even get into Matt and Eleanor Friedberger's habit of rearranging already tricky songs into nonstop medleys for stage use, or their refusal to sound exactly the same from tour to tour or album to album. Yet last night at the Rockwood, normally a more folk-oriented venue, they set out to prove their material could hold up under the most old-school of entertainment conditions. Here, songs as straightforward as "Here Comes the Summer" (with its ringing refrain: "Remember!"; from 2005's EP) and as twisty as the nine-minute, several-discrete-parts "Blueberry Boat" (2004) were rendered in full by Matt on piano and Eleanor standing with a microphone. Ladies and gentlemen, the Fiery Furnaces finally have gone lounge.
A lovely Internet distraction from a band we have not (lightly) antagonized in months, starting with their respective births and ending in 2010 with the threat to make an album titled Stories from the Old Testament by the Fiery Furnaces, which you'd assume is a joke if it came from any other band on earth. As always, make of it what you will.
It's pretty funny that the Fiery Furnaces' new I'm Going Away has been generally critically regarded as their simplest, most direct, least goofy-gimmick-addled release in years, and lo and behold, they're now threatening to release two new versions of it, one covered entirely by Matt, one covered entirely by Eleanor. Though I happened to be listening to the record at the exact moment I learned this news (hi Tom), I can't say I was mulling over how much I'd like to hear Matt sing "Lost at Sea," but these guys doing every daffy thing that pops into their heads seems to be the idea. Their official statement re: this project is below; I leave you to determine its level of sarcasm.
Peter Stampfel, Larkin Grimm, and the Fiery Furnaces
Wednesday, July 22
"This one's about traveling to a distant galaxy to bring back spirit orgasms for women on earth who've never had one," Larkin Grimm said last night to a decent crowd at Housing Works, capturing the irreverent and earnestly bizarre tone of the evening. Grimm, an anarchist folk-rocker and former member of the Dirty Projectors, was one of five performers--three of them musical acts--that gathered to celebrate the seventh issue of The Lowbrow Reader, an excellent and actually quite high-minded comedy magazine edited by Time Out music writer Jay Ruttenberg.
Peter Stampfel and his Ether Frolic Mob kicked off the event with an eclectic set ranging from full-bodied Delta blues covers--e.g., Charlie Patton's "Shake It and Break It"--to things a bit more in the Pete Seeger, if not A Mighty Wind, vein. Stampfel, dressed in Birkenstocks and a racy Hawaiian shirt, did some yodeling and frenetic banjo picking and gave props to the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.
This story seems to have disquieted the band somewhat, re: levels of detectable sarcasm, etc. Via PR channels, they've passed along an official reaction/statement/clarification. Which reads as follows:
In this week's Village Voice, we preview two of Siren Festival's lesser-known, but indubitably excellent bands: Rob Harvilla talks to Future of the Left, who're definitely the most gleefully hostile band at Siren; Camille Dodero celebrates the full-tilt, half-naked joys of Israeli cock rockers Monotonix.
Whimsical Brooklyn brother-sister act Fiery Furnaces released the distinctly sitcom-y "The End Is Near" in June, as a prelude to their eighth album, I'm Going Away, due out in a couple of Tuesdays. The song contains the couplet "Woe is me/Etc.: Lonely. See...," something we know for a fact (down to the punctuation!) because the lyrics are posted over at WNYC's Soundcheck blog, as an aid to a video contest the site is holding--YOU make a video for the song, etc. etc. Hilariously, this contest will be judged by Rik Cordero, probably the most wacky, flashy rap music video director this side of Hype Williams. He, the Fiery Furnaces, and YOU will converge on Soundcheck, the radio version, come September, should your film win. Anyway, above is the video WNYC's posted to get you started, in which Matthew Friedberger assays both a Bob Dylan impression and a bit of philosophy: "Our lives, they're not feature films anymore--big feature film spectaculars. They're just tiny, little, maybe sad TV shows." I dunno, Matthew. Have you seen a little thing called "Deeper than Rap"?
Today we introduce a regular Sound of the City feature in which one nostalgic Alabaman invites musicians he likes to play a song publicly somewhere, anywhere, in the five boroughs. Very often, this intrepid Southerner drags along yr unwitting blog host to document the proceedings with the departmental equipment—some iodine vapors, a cell-phone camera, and a stick of chewing gum. (Daguerreotype 2.0!)
Possibly 4th Street's inaugural subject is Matthew Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces—who actually didn't play a note for us, but instead revealed the secrets of his songwriting process. The print thingy came out last week, but we saved the odds and ends for today, the release date of the band's most recent opus, Widow City. Expect to see more of this lo-fi shit every week. In fact, brace yrself for another installment (this time with music) in two days.
Matthew Friedberger in Long Island City; photo by yr SOTC host Camille Dodero
Possibly 4th Street: The Fiery Furnaces
by Rob Trucks
“We begin . . .”
Yes, we begin.
Call this little excursion the bride of busking (yes, it could be the groom, cousin or ex-girlfriend of busking, but we like alliteration). Something close, but not quite reaching, the proverbial hand-rolled product of Cuba.
Let us ‘splain, Lucy.
The sport of busking has a long and storied, if ill-documented history—if there is a definitive, encompassing work on the subject, we’ve yet to run across it. In those halcyon, pre-You Tube days, busking stood as a simultaneously open, yet shady (read: illegal), act. An occasionally romantic, if ofttimes necessary endeavor for young, struggling musicians. Yep, traveling troubadours took up subway and sidewalk positions in hopes of a little pocket change, some much-needed meal money, or perhaps the musical equivalent of Lana Turner’s rumored discovery at Schwab’s—long before MySpace was a gleam in Rupert Murdoch’s eye.
Dylan, we assume, busked upon his arrival in this city. (How could he not since all of his heroes and cronies partook? Though Michael Gray’s Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, for one, makes no mention.) And rumor has it that Sir Paul McCartney, well past fashionably late in his career (circa Give My Regards to Broad Street if the stories are true) donned a disguise and took to the streets of London with a left-handed six-string. So did Sting, another British bassist (though his guitar was a righty and his disguise was supposedly just a simple hat pulled low).
Joe Strummer, in his pre-punk, hippie days, also busked in London to earn much-needed cash, not only for himself but his fellow squatters. And in a rare dash of documented street performance, Neil Youngbusked in Glasgow shortly before a scheduled appearance in 1976.
Of course, Europe has always served as a more accepting setting for such activities. Madeleine Peyroux, now a resident of New York, began her showbiz career as a hat-passer on the east side of the Atlantic before touring Old World streets as a singer with the famed (by busking standards) Lost Wandering Blues & Jazz Band.
Closer to home (but not by much), Michelle Shocked, back when she was still known as Michelle Johnston, played mandolin with a street band out in California. And, as the story goes, the Violent Femmes were discovered by late Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott while busking on the sidewalks of their Milwaukee motherland.
You can probably add a half-dozen or so more names yourself (Beck!), so suffice to say that a whole bunch of famous musicians, at one time or another, grabbed their guitar (or other instrument of choice) and took to the street to seek their respective fortune.
But you just don’t see that (or hear that or hear about that) so much anymore. At least not from anyone you’d cross the street to hear. And we miss it some.
We first thought to try and rekindle that time-honored act of busking by inviting musicians outside, out in the street, as it were, to play some songs, pass the hat, see if anyone noticed. Certainly the Village scene of nearly fifty years ago gives us some historical, as well as local, precedent. But honestly, the money aspect, for once, doesn’t matter here. We're much more interested in engaging musicians we like—the young and the (relatively) old, the famous and the not-so—in a different way. And we’re adaptable, if not flexible. So if that means walking through western Queens with Matthew Friedberger (half of our hometown Fiery Furnaces) as he shows us his first non-Brooklyn apartment, then that’s fine and dandy.
But most of the time musicians will play. And we’ll listen and we’ll talk and we’ll document it with some particularly shitty equipment (at least until we get that advance on our allowance) so you’ll know we’re not trying to be all competitive and stuff.