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

Categories: Last Night
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Photos by Nick Wosika
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.

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Photos by Nick Wosika
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
Remember
Pricked In the Heart
The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry
Even In the Rain
Philadelphia Grand Jury
Cousin Chris
Widow City
Nevers
Gallowsbird's Bark
Evergreen
Tambourine
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


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1 comments
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Brubbelke
Brubbelke

I got a distinctly different vibe from the show. I was mezmerized from the opening note and remained that way throughout. I thought this arrangement showed their songs and their talents in an excellent light. There was a sweeteness and charm to the show that is very rare these days and for that to be done by a band that usually surrounds itself with a wall of sound, is what made it charming. It was as if you were sitting in their family living room. I drug two of my friends with me to the show, both casual fans at best, and they both thought the show was incredible and hung on every note as well. We all agreed, it was the best show we had seen in quite some time.  

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