The Fiery Furnaces at the Cedar, 5/13/11

The Fiery Furnaces
May 13, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis

The Cedar Cultural Center possesses a particular vibe, an approximation I'd place somewhere between a playhouse and a time-fragmented sixties gymnasium. The overhead music is fantastic; finely curated Latin American numbers and '60s R&B gems keep you company as you sit in your folding chair in the semi-darkness, not surprising from a staff of quinquagenarian culture vultures. A grown-up version of a high school recital, that's what it is. And that's sort of what this night's show was, too.


Now: The Fiery Furnaces write the musical equivalent of a Shel Silverstein book that's one beer short of too many and a couple tooters too; manic, dense, imagistic, maybe a little bourgeois, always sweet or trying its best to be under the myriad difficulties their characters are put through. Most of the music, on record at least, relies on a host of  guitar tones, piano filters, a very good drummer, and a singer with preternatural diction to get at its full expression.

For this occasion the Friedbergers/Furnaces, siblings Matthew and Eleanor, performed by their lonesomes -- Matthew on piano, Eleanor tending microphone, bottles of Beck's, and the majority of eyes in the room. Brother Friedberger's approach to this performance was sitting at the piano, back to the audience, making funny faces to himself and leaning in close during the busy parts. Matthew, principal composer of the two, likes his music whip-smart, sharp, and playful, and the lounge act approach here made that personality stand out sharply, throwing in descends and plops to throw off Eleanor, chiding the sound guy (that old chestnut) over pop filters ("p-p-p-penguin!"), playing aloof and returning to face the fall of his piano.

There was a feeling that, if everyone had gotten up and left halfway through, the Friedbergers would've obliviously kept on, the last two at a bar well past closing time, hanging off the piano, spilling, making fun of each other. And, after two hours and 27 songs, it seemed more and more a possibility. The charm of the Fiery Furnaces lies, depending on who you are, either in the density of their prose and intentions (you'd have loved it) or, in the kaleidoscope of dynamics, genres, tones, and moods they weave into their music (mayhap not). So an approach like this, while interesting to watch the shoes and coats come off, may have been better served for everyone concerned if it was held next door at Palmer's, the Friedberger's tucked into a corner, thumbing through their binder of songs while people milled and inched past to smoke cigarettes on the patio.

Critic's bias: Experienced several live permutations of the Furnaces -- including a packed rocker of a show in their band birth town of Brooklyn with a keyboardist from Neutral Milk Hotel sitting in -- and this one was the weirdest.


The crowd: Polite, confused, possibly daydreaming toward the end there.

Overheard in the crowd: "Who was that guy?"

For more photos: See our full slideshow by Nick Wosika.

Set list

Blueberry Boat

Smelling Cigarettes

Garfield El


Pricked In the Heart

The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry

Even In the Rain

Philadelphia Grand Jury

Cousin Chris

Widow City


Gallowsbird's Bark



Keep Me In the Dark

I'm In No Mood

Uncle Charlie

Restorative Beer

Inca Rag/Name Game

My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found

Police Sweater Blood Vow

Benton Harbor Blues

I'm Not There (Bob Dylan cover)

Take Me Round Again

Sing for Me

Mason City

Tropical Iceland