October 25, 2004
BY MARTY GARNER
The Fiery Furnaces new album, "Blueberry Boat," is annoying. It flies off the handle several hundred times and creens in just as many directions. I loved it the first time I heard it.
The Furnaces live show at Twiropa Monday night was a completely different, yet equally insane, beast from their album. The live show was that green tiger from Masters of the Universe, Cringer. Like Cringer, the Furnaces show was bright, naive, frightening, gentle, quick, and it happened to hang out with ambiguously gay men. Also like Cringer, the brother/sister duo was incredibly entertaining.
It's rare to see a band play for 40 minutes without stopping, but that's what The Furnaces did. They ripped the structure of their album out by the seams, painted it, silkscreened an image of Captain Hook on it, and sewed it back together like a shirt from Turncoats. The stunning result felt like a classic hip-hop remix album; endings and beginnings of songs blurred together, and songs were abandoned mid-verse, only to be returned to later in the show.
The Furnaces played "Quay Cur," their album's opening track, five times over. Songs came and went almost without notice, unrecognizable save for the lyrics. The band attacked roughly 35 tracks in about as many minutes, but it all made sense.
And the musicianship! I have no idea why live drummer Andy Knowles didn't record with the band. He stole the show with not only his amazing talent but also with his odd stage presence. At one point, he jumped from his drum throne and hit his cymbals on the way down, looking like someone pressed the "jump" button on his drumseat remote control. He drummed on the bottom side of cymbals and chewed on drumsticks. In addition, Knowles looked like an indie rock Ethan Embree, of Empire Records fame. Knowles had what Embree's stage presence would probably be if he were a drummer. And not a douche.
Bassist/keyboardist Toshi Yano played lines much catchier than those on the album. His bass throbbed through the speakers, all bent notes and quick melodies.
Following the lead of head Furnace Matthew Friedberger, the band played disjunctive rhythms in perfect time with one another. Yano followed Friedberger's keyboard runs perfectly. Much has been written about Friedberger's sister, lead singer Eleanor, but I found her to be the least intriguing member of the group. Her job seemed to be to simply run (quickly) through her lyrics while Friedburger conducted the music.
So, the Fiery Furnaces lived up to their massive hype. Their playing was fierce and fun, and they were incredible music talents. The fact that they basically re-wrote an album as critically acclaimed as "Blueberry Boat" and actually made it better live filled me with a warm, cartoony feeling. Kind of like watching Masters of the Universe.