The Fiery Furnaces @ Spaceland
May 30, 2008 - Los Angeles, CA
By Darren Kim
On The Road
In her trademark fashion Eleanor Friedberger rocks back and forth sipping on some suds, flapping her palms against her lap between the rattling bass booming out of her brother Matthew's keyboards.
They seem to be at home playing the first of two nights at Spaceland - a dark lit bar full of curious music enthusiasts - trying to please the handful of seasoned followers up front.
As the band continues with their set, you can tell who the long-time fans are as they bob their heads at each unpredictable transition from chorus to bridge and mouthing insensible lyrics about Navajo basketball coaches and blonde ladies.
A typical Fiery Furnaces song blends somewhat theatrical and experimental sounds with doses of melodic brilliance often changing pace between whimsical, heavy, and outright catchy - that is, when they decide to be.
That's because The Fiery Furnaces' music has often been described as difficult. They probably reached their most accessible phase during "EP", their third album, that contained remarkably poppy tunes such as Single Again - a song that could make any Hot Chip fan jealous - and the remarkably cheery Tropical Iceland.
But making catchy pop songs seemed too easy for the Furnaces in the same way Picasso would've probably been bored painting the same mountain landscapes and happy trees on public television.
Take their album Rehearsing My Choir for example. A narrative concept album about their grandmother's life as a choir director featuring grandma herself. While it was a brave attempt in doing something unique, it made even the staunchest of fans question the Furnaces' direction and their limits of musical experimentation.
That said, Matthew Friedberger is nothing more than the musical genius and virtuoso behind the Furnaces. Writing and arranging most of their songs, witnessing him ambidextrously play his stack of electronic moogs and organs is like watching a mad scientist bringing life to Frankenstein.
Another word that's often been used to describe The Fiery Furnaces is prolific. Not only to describe their lengthy mashup of songs from their live sets but the amount of work they've released in their short career. Since their 2003 debut release Gallowsbird Bark, they've created six more albums for a total of seven albums in just five years.
Need more evidence? Exhibit G: The Fiery Furnaces are set to release their new double disc live album Remember with - brace yourself - fifty-one tracks. There is even a warning on the back of the cd "Please do not attempt to listen to all at once." Trying to digest this mammoth release by importing the cds into iTunes didn't work out so well for me as all the tracks were labeled Track 01, 02, 03 .. 50, 51. Apparently, no one's decided to decipher the hieroglyphic depths of this album even though there's an online contest to name all fifty-one tracks. Good luck my friend.
The band's epic unpredictability is much of the charm of the Furnaces. Each year is like a new season. As a fan, you'll never know what to expect, and if you don't like this year's album, well there's always next year.
There's a sort of instant connection you get from meeting other Furnaces fans because it takes a lot of determination and an open mind to scour through each track digging for nuggets of musical delicacies. Going through the Friedbergers' furnace may seem troublesome at first, but trust me, it's very rewarding when you emerge from the fire.
The Fiery Furnaces
Photos by Darren Kim