The Fiery Furnaces came here in 2003, and now New Yorker Eleanor Friedberger returns without her brother. Martin Longley reports.
She’s on tour, all the way from upstate New York (economically hounded out of Brooklyn only recently), and surely slightly disappointed by the meagre turn-out in the Academy’s smallest room.
How many here? Perhaps somewhere between 30 and 40, but all looking like ardent fans of Eleanor Friedberger, one of rock’n’roll’s more individualist talents. Well, perhaps her solo material isn’t so determinedly strange, restless and unpredictable as her songwriting with brother Matthew, as a member of The Fiery Furnaces, who are certainly one of rock’n’roll’s even more individualist acts. They’ve been on hiatus (as these bands often say) since 2011, which is around about the time that Eleanor’s solo activities gained prominence.
She released her third album, New View, at the beginning of this year. Whether by design, or simply as a result of her solo penning tendencies, Friedberger’s own songs stem from a more traditional rock source, often using the chugging garage band as a template, not least The Velvet Underground, and their immediate followers, the Modern Lovers. Maybe she’s even into Creedence Clearwater Revival. She’s certainly into Neil Young, at least within her own cranium. Anyway, the songs have an attractively straightforward riff-base, highlighting Friedberger’s eloquent lines, still wriggly in their phrasing and timing, slipping in slightly askew images and direct, uncluttered observations. She’s deliberately naive and subtly dark, as Lou Reed has paved the way.
Friedberger’s trio features a bassist who frequently takes solos, clicking in an effects pedal fuzz, sometimes switching to guitar, then spouting in the more expected fashion. The drummer maintains a propulsive beat, keeping trucking without any fancy moves. Many of the songs are thoughtfully medium-paced, but then Friedberger hits a cluster of faster, harder songs, not least Stare At The Sun, beginning to pace about the stage, locking eyes with her bassman.
The rapport increases, but it looks like some other shows were set for 90 minutes, with this one just stepping over an hour. Perhaps a measure of the difficult, low-key atmosphere. When she namechecked the Furnaces, there was a sole murmur of recognition from the bowels of the gathering, Friedberger joking (or probably not joking) that this was the least enthusiastic response she’d ever heard. Not really her fault, not really the audience’s fault, just a crucial lack of critical mass.
Though the crowd might be sparse, there’s an enthusiastic call for an encore, so Friedberger returns to play a few more, the pinnacle of the night being Single Again, one of the best songs from the Furnaces book. This was a valiant attempt at a gig, under subdued circumstances, but a good show nevertheless.
Photo: Inès Elsa Dalal