Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Fiery Furnaces

with Cryptacize

December 31st, 2009 at Lincoln Hall
Chicago, IL

When the Fiery Furnaces announced they would playing be in Chicago for New Year's Eve, a wave of pure joy came over me, and I cracked a smile that was at least a mile wide. Full disclosure, here--the Furnaces are my favorite band, bar none. I've been a mini-fanboy since Blueberry Boat (which, to be fair, wasn't as long ago as their voluminous output since might suggest, released in '04.) Championed early and mightily by Pitchfork, the band has only further endeared itself to me by remaining true to their singularly frenetic and tuneful vision, and never backing down from their whims (Rehearsing My Choir, which was built around vocals by the duo's husky-voiced, elderly grandmother, probably cost them a massive chunk of fans, yet it's my favorite of their albums.)

Doubly fantastic was the fact the the Furnaces would be playing Lincoln Hall, a new venue in Lincoln Park which I'd not had the opportunity to check out yet. For a NYE show, tickets were ridiculously cheap. I secured a few guests to accompany me, and It was a done deal. I was off to the races.

It was colder than a witches tit on Halloween in Chicago on New Year's Eve. Somewhere around fifteen degrees, and the wind was blowing hard. The high-perched El stops were exercises in endurance and stamina, and the warmth drained out much more quickly than it came back. Yeah, it was cold. But we made it, taking the Blue line down, to Brown line up, and arrived at the venue about twenty minutes past 9.

Now, the show was billed as three acts--The Smith Westerns, Cryptacize, then the Furnaces. I know this because I received somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty or so emails from Lincoln Hall announcing the set time and line-up additions. Now, granted, we arrived around 20 minutes late, which any concert-goer will tell you is plenty early, as I've never once been to a show that started right at the announced time (let alone on NYE.) But, around 10 pm, Cryptacize took the stage. Did the Smith Westerns play? If they did, it was the shortest set in the history of rock & roll. Either way, it was fine. Cryptacize was good-not-great, a suitable opener, maybe a little sleepy at times.

Lincoln Hall had been born out of the building which had formerly housed the Three Penny Cinema, which had been out of commission for some time (the famous Biograph is right across the street.) Seeing it for the first time, I must say I was impressed. Following in the trend of incorporating a slight restaurant vibe to live-music venues (see: Schuba's, LH's sister club, et al.) We waited for a bit , but all was well. Bud drafts were $3. Throughout the night, LH proved capable of splitting the difference well; the front bar and dining area remained occupied, and the stage area, a large, separate room with an accompanying expansive balcony, was a fine place to see the music. I will jump at future chances to see bands here, no doubt about it.

The Furnaces are known for blending up and reinterpreting their tunes at their live shows, and tonight was no exception. In a slightly-irking move, Matt, the brother of the duo, chose to tackle the show with guitar only, forgoing keyboards entirely. Though the set list seemed chosen appropriately (no doubt purposefully) for this, I will say that the piano lines on the records are often pretty integral to the songs. Even though most of the tunes were reconfigured to accommodate this, a few of the hooky keyboard parts from the records would have hit the spot. But this is a small complaint, as if I were forced to choose, I would quickly and gladly prefer the Furnaces always fun and spectacularly musical reworking of tunes to straight up interpretations. By a mile. So file that under "minor quibble."

Eleanor Friedberger is undoubtedly one of the most under-heard and under-appreciated vocalists in rock (all the more reason to support the band--she could have made a mint in a lot of others by now). It's always remarkable to watch the ease which which the Furnaces rifle through their crazily hyped-up and wonky reworkings. Even more so now, as "I'm Going Away" features what most would dub some of the Furnaces most accessible and poppy tracks. Not so much on stage, as tempos are altered, sequence goes right out the window, and just about anything else you can imagine goes topsy-turvy as well. It really is enough to make your head spin, particularly if you're trying to keep up, or (God help you) sing along. But a lot of the enjoyment of their performances is marveling at the mind-boggling jumbling and juggling of the original songs. This being NYE, they obligingly did a few straight-up bars of "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight, and some confetti fell. In all honestly, we were well in the bag by then, but it was a transcendently boozy moment of bliss. We toasted our plastic champagne flutes and swayed along for the rest of the set, which could have gone on forever, for all I cared. It was after 1 o'clock when they finished, but the set somehow still felt too short.

The record might be called "I'm Going Away," but I certainly hope they don't, nor can I imagine that they would. Like most of my favorite bands, the Fiery Furnaces seem to have enough pent-up creativity to see them through about a dozen more albums, at least. And, as if our evenings greatness thus far had not enough, as we milled about at the bar after the show, Matt and Eleanor made their way up front to pack up the merch, and I somehow got a hug from her, and autographs (on server's notepads) from both. How 'bout that? I bet I blushed a little. So what's the lesson here? That it's OK to be a fanboy sometimes, I guess. And that there are still bands out there worthy of such rabid devotion, and ready, willing and able to earn it.