Fiery Furnaces (courtesy of myspace.com/fieryfurnaces)
My buddy Scott, my girlfriend and I sauntered into the safety of the crowd as Dios Malos was finishing up their set but concluded that a beeline to the bar and cheap well drinks were far more in order than standing and watching a band that wasn’t rocking that hard anyway.
As we sipped our martinis and whiskey and cokes, we watched a thick-necked bouncer kick out another kid who had decided that he would like to do nothing more on his 21st birthday than watch the Fiery Furnaces while getting shitcanned and dancing on the table and having "high-kick" contests with the other bar patrons. We had time to shoot one retarded (but free of charge) game of pool with a tipless cue that happened to be the only one in the bar before we heard murmurs and spied through the bar’s viewing slots that the Furnaces were taking the stage.
This was my first chance to see FF, but I had read some articles about their live show and hence had some expectations. I remember a quote that began one article by some dude in the Strokes or the Vines or someone like that, that said of the Fiery Furnaces just as they were taking the stage somewhere in New York, "Watch this. They’re going to get up there and play for two hours, not say one word to the audience and completely isolate them." This turned out to be a partially accurate description of this show at Sound. The band started and seemed like they would never stop. They burned through songs off of Blueberry Boat, Gallowsbird’s Bark with seamless transitions faster than the Ramones. Lead singer Eleanor Friedberger spit her melodic lyrics with sulking shoulder-shrug halfway dance moves which, coupled with her sullen face, straight brown hair and blazing eyes, made her a spot-on match of Horses-era Patti Smith—just as badass, just as sexy. She stared most of the set intensely into the crowd and I thought for a while she was looking directly at me. I realized later that she was staring at the pillar behind me. Her brother Matthew Friedberger alternated between the keys and ripping the guitar.
Jack White, drummer Andy Knowles, adorned in a Motley Crue T-shirt, blasted away at his kit, banging his head even while performing a dazzling display of intricate cymbal-stand taps and Toshi Yano stood back and bopped and laid down snazzy basslines. Overall, their songs were twice as fast and 30 times as tough as any final mix gracing their generally pretty-sounding albums. The effect was great. Most of the crowd, sporting patterned and collared shirts that would have made my dad feel like he fit in, watched awestruck through the act and a couple enthusiastics danced fervently in front of the stage speakers. The band did stop a few times to chat comfortably with the crowd (after playing for an hour straight) and once for all to leave the stage, except for brother and sister Friedberger, who swept through a couple songs before playing the encore by themselves. They rocked without pretension; they talked without losing focus on their task. It was probably the best show I’ve seen in Salt Lake City this year.
After their set was over, I wandered to the merch table to buy a 12" and back to the bar for another drink where I found Eleanor chatting it up with my girlfriend. My buddy Scott stood captivated to the side, shifting from foot to foot in anxiety. Eleanor is basically his dream girl and, as I would learn later, his first-place nervousness was exponentially increased by the uncomfortable feeling that found its way into his gut when Eleanor replied to his question of "So is your grandma [who allegedly had a hand in the composition of some songs on their upcoming album] going to go on tour with you when your new album comes out?" with, "No. It would be too loud for her." In person, Eleanor has the "hip-reservation-with-swanky-humor" aura down to a T, and even I was a bit rapt and glad that my bold girlfriend was there to deter awkward pauses with comments like, "Will you sign ‘Patti Smith’ on my ass while he takes a picture? No wait, signing bodies is for hippies." We all got a good laugh and I pulled the old John-Cusak-in-High-Fidelity-"I-enjoyed-your-set" move and walked away. We slinked toward the exit door, strolled boldly into the rest of the night, which is a story in itself.