Thursday, October 07, 2004

Something in my Veins, Bloodier than Blood - Wilco/The Fiery Furnaces @ Radio City 10/6/04

Concerts where you want to see both the headliner and the opening act are always exciting - you feel like you are getting your money's worth. While I don't know Wilco as well (in particular the first 2 albums, AM and Being There) as some of their most devoted fans, what I do know I think is amazing, so needless to say I was chuffed to be seeing them at RCMH which has great sound and comfortable seats. What didn't hurt the experience was that the seats we had were in the 5th row (it looked like the 2nd on the ticket but we forgot about the orchestra pit seats - still amazing location in a great venue). So that coupled with an opener that I was certainly curious to see, The Fiery Furnaces, made last night highly anticipated.

The Fiery Furnaces, made up of siblings Matt and Eleanor Friedberger, make strange music (I mean that in the good way). Blueberry Boat is like 13 mini-rock operas - each track over-stuffed with whimsical hooks played on a variety of instruments and Eleanor's hyper-kinetic deadpan delivery of fun, quirky lyrics. They add two guys (a drummer and a guitarist/bassist/electronic box that makes a lot of sounds player) for their live show. I thought they were very good, but not without reservation. Eleanor is amazing to watch live - diminutive indie girl with a bit of badunkadunk and somehow she manages to deliver all of those lyrics clearly. The music never stops as they transition between songs after playing a verse from here, or a chorus from there - it's a very impressive display of indie choreography. While they strip down the sound of the album a lot and change a lot of the music from the songs, it is very impressive how little they rely on pre-recorded parts, with Matt and the other multi-instrumentalist producing a ton of sounds. However, they are a bit overshadowed by their spastic drummer, who convulses even during the parts where there are no drums. When he does play, he pounds out constant disco punk, two hands to the high-hat beats, then squeezes out the same 3 fills throughout - what he does is talented, but for 45 minutes, it demanded too much attention (especially for a session musician!) and controlled the sound of the show too much. The songs that had been stripped down to just a guitar and bass ended up sounding like a disco-punk band covering The Fiery Furnaces. At one point the drummer picked up a pair of rubber axes to bang the drums and there wsa something very appropriate about the image - he really could learn something from Wilco's pagan skin pounder Glenn Kotche, who bangs harder and with more technical proficiency than just about anyone when he needs to, but sits back on the groove when its time for Tweedy to take over. The Furnaces are really growing on me musically, but they need to give their drummer some quaaludes before the show (and I wouldn't complain if they added a couple of chunks of pre-recorded music to fill out the sound).

Wilco was Wilco - while I am not one for gushing about someone being a great songwriter, Jeff Tweedy is a great songwriter. Beautiful melodies, clever and touching lyrics, there is something about their sound that elicits nostalgia just because it is so instantly accessible and emotionally mature simultaneously. I couldn't trust a person that could look me in the eye and say "Handshake Drugs" is not a good song. The show had almost everything from A Ghost is Born, as well as a bunch of songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, as well as a few from the other two albums, and even a track from Mermaid Avenue, a collaboration with Billy Bragg. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" was the apotheosis of dynamism - the Krautrock build-up sections sounded even more Teutonic than on record with an additional keyboard part and the All-American rock out crescendos were simply massive. Respect. Other highlights included "Handshake Drugs" (though there was something a touch 70s arena rock about it: a) two of the guys were singing the back up part while facing each other on one mic, when there was another mic right next to them and b) Tweedy pulled out a blue Gibson heavy metal guitar for the end section), "I am Trying to Break your Heart" and "At Least That's What you Said." At one point, Tweedy, after playing the harmonica, said that his son Spencer had once said that while both he and Bob Dylan played the harmonica, his dad was not Bob Dylan (though my skeptical pal Rajeev would say he made up this part to be self-depricating). Spencer's dad is far superior to Dylan IMHO. An excellent show.

Now if only the chingando Jankees would lose one of those extra inning playoff games that manages to end after a concert, I could have a completely satisfying night!

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