It isn’t easy being a Fiery Furnaces fan. Oh, I know there are hard-core fans who’ll disagree, people who love every song on the albums as well as the concerts. Sometimes, I love the band myself. There’s no denying they’re among the most creative musicians on the scene today, but they also seem almost deliberately difficult and frustrating. All of those manic musical changes and jabberwocky rushes of words can be a bit much to take. The new Fiery Furnaces album, Widow City starts out great, with some strong tracks, and then meanders into boredom in the second half.
In concert, the group’s always been problematic. A few fans love the way the band cuts up and rearranges its songs in concert, turning them into medleys decipherable only by those who have memorized every note and word of every record. As far as I could tell, they didn’t do that sort of rearranging last night (Oct. 31) at Logan Square Auditorium. But the Furnaces did persist in playing keyboard-heavy versions of their songs. The tunes blended together until they became almost indistinguishable. The first couple of times I saw the group, Matt Friedberger played guitar, and even his sister, singer Eleanor, played guitar a little bit. Now, the band is playing without any guitar at all. Last night, Matt remained sitting behind three keyboards all night. A slight improvement over previous keyboard-heavy Furnaces concerts, yesterday’s show at least featured one keyboard with a piano sound. I’d rather hear Matt playing piano than making those insanely swirly organ noises all night long. He’s such a talented guy, but he’s not doing himself any favors by drowning his complex compositions in a bunch of bleeding organ notes. Quick, someone, take that organ away from him.
Eleanor was typical Eleanor, delivering all those verbose lyrics (how the heck does she remember them all?) with a cool, almost calm delivery. It was Halloween, and she was wearing a dress printed with ancient Egyptian images and references, and she played around with a toy snake and a skull face at various times. The concert started off with some of the better songs from Widow City, including “Philadelphia Grand Jury.” And the show finished with a strong encore, including two of the more direct songs from the Furnaces’ early days, “Don’t Dance Her Down” and “Tropical Iceland.”
I still count myself as a Fiery Furnaces fan and I continue to admire the band, but the concert experience is feeling like too much of an ordeal for me. The band is what it is, and I’m sure they don’t listen to people like me for advice, but I’d love to see them perform with more musicians playing all of those complex and varied parts on the studio recordings. Or at least give us more variety of keyboard sounds. And how about some guitar?
The opening act was Pit er Pat. The trio has a decent sound, with a touch of artsy experimentation and trance… and a lot fewer lyrics than the Fiery Furnaces.