The Fiery Furnaces at the Cedar, 5/13/11
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.
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?"
Pricked In the Heart
The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry
Even In the Rain
Philadelphia Grand Jury
Keep Me In the Dark
I'm In No Mood
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
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