A giant black backdrop was stretched across the rear of Satellite Ballroom’s stage with a hodge-podge of words scrawled in bright pink, blue and yellow. I tried to decipher the run-on sentences and non sequiturs, only later realizing that I’d completely overlooked the fact that the pink and yellow portions of the text formed two large “F”s, the initials of the night’s headlining act, the Fiery Furnaces.
Rock the vote, or vote for rock? The Fiery Furnaces warmed up the cold primary season during their Satellite Ballroom show on Saturday.
This is characteristic of the band’s effect. The Furnaces heat up on multiple levels, and while you’re trying to weave your way through one aspect of their sound, it’s easy to completely miss the larger script that’s unraveling. Then, suddenly, it all comes into focus, like one of those “Magic Eye” pictures.
|Listen to The Fiery Furnaces‘ "Ex-Guru":
That’s how I felt seeing the Furnaces on Saturday night. Though I’ve gotten my feet wet in various parts of the band’s five-year, six-disc catalogue, I’ve usually opted for a quick dip into their waters of prog-pop and postmodern wordplay. But Jason Loewenstein’s bass playing, Bob D’Amico’s drumming and Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger’s icing-on-the-cake synth-and-vocal combo congealed to rock the Ballroom and make me rethink my cursory flirtations with their recorded material.
Loewenstein (of seminal lo-fi rock trio Sebadoh) ripped particularly hard, stomping his distortion pedal to unleash Thor-like bolts of sound that perfectly complemented the synth playing of the male Friedberger, who, with his slightly bug-eyed concentration, looked like a mad scientist carefully stirring his musical kettle. His sister, in heals, high-waisted slacks and a flowered blouse, sang perfectly in sync with her brother from beneath her long bangs.
While much of the set drew from Widow City, the band’s latest release, a call for the audience to jot down votes for what they wanted to hear (part of the band’s election-themed, “Democ-Rock” tour) resulted in a nice array of tunes from earlier albums, including “Tropical Iceland” and “Chief Inspector Blancheflower,” which saw Matthew joining Eleanor for singing duties on the dramatic duet.
Though they took the night into overdrive, the Friedbergers and their cohorts weren’t the only ones who brought the intensity. New and refreshing local rock quartet Tapeworms kicked off the night with a barrage of loud guitar squeals and propulsive rhythms, handling things nicely (especially considering this was only their fifth live appearance). Between songs, they assured that more rock was to come, but before the Furnaces’ fury fulfilled that promise, Richmond’s Ki:Theory offered a slightly out of place interlude of pop electronica that included the group’s recent remix of UNKLE’s “Hold My Hand.”
As employees began to mop the Ballroom floor after the show, Matthew Friedberger, speaking in his serious but disarming manner, asked a few lingering folks about the nearby Heartwood Books on Elliewood Avenue, as he hoped to make a trip there the following day before hitting the road. No doubt he snagged a few dusty books, accumulating more themes and texts that will probably find their way onto the next Fiery Furnaces release.