Brooklyn brother/sister indie-rockers the Fiery Furnaces opened a quick four-city jaunt with a stripped down, playful 90-minute set in Philadelphia that featured whiskey shots with the crowd and "the most talking we've ever done between songs," according to the band's multi-instrumental wunderkind Matthew Friedberger. "We're just stalling," he later admitted. "We're tired because we haven't played in so long."
Tired or not, the band managed to debut their new album, I'm Going Away (out July 21), from top to bottom for a wildly enthusistic crowd at tiny Kung Fu Necktie (capacity: 100).
The new tunes, like most in the Furnaces repertoire, were sprawled heartily across an inventive aural landscape: frequent, abrupt chord changes; newly-reinvented time signatures from drummer Bob D'amico; oodles and oodles of odd lyrics from vocalist Eleanor Friedberger. One thing they didn't have: keyboard. The band left the instrument home for the short tour, giving older tracks a refreshing touch, and new songs a raw, hard-edged appeal.
After blasting through a trio of tunes from older albums -- "Here Comes the Summer," "Leaky Tunnel," "Chris Michaels" -- the Furnaces chipped away at the newbies, frequently looking one another in the eyes to anticipate the myriad mid-song changes.
The album's title track leaned heavily on a rhythmic chug-chug-chug of bass fuzz from four-string savant Jason Lowenstein (ex of Sebadoh), but then dove quickly into a strutty, staccato disco-guitar pulse lead by Matthew.
"Drive To Dallas" was a solemn, emotionally wrenching piano ballad (minus the piano, tonight). "Staring at the Steeple," began as a prog-heavy cut reminiscent of Yes' "Long Distant Run Around," before giving way to a meaty, distorted Sabbath-like dirge. "The End is Near" was a slow, bent-note blues jam that gave Matthew the sickest case of Solo Face this side of John Mayer.
"Even in the Rain," a feel-good pop gem (or something close), referenced its title so often that Eleanor asked a member of the audience if he'd already gotten his hands on the new album after she spied him singing along. "The lyrics to that one aren't hard to figure out," Matthew chided his younger sibling.
Dressed in a blue one-piece jumper, red ankle boots with an almost dangerous heel, and a haircut stolen from Patti Smith, Eleanor tugged the mic chord violently when emphasizing lyrics, creeped as close to stage's edge as monitors would allow, pointed to the crowd for added emphasis during tender moments, and fell to her knees every once in a sweaty while for a quick respite from the packed venue's heat."Why do you get a fan?" she finally asked her breeze-cooled brother, as any deprived sibling might.
"You're the first people to hear these songs in the whole wide world," she said towards show's end. "Lucky or unlucky?"
For the tiny, sweaty, thrilled Philadelphia crowd, the answer seemed obvious.
1. Here Comes the Summer (EP)
2. Leaky Tunnel (Gallowbird's Bark)
3. Chris Michaels (Blueberry Boat)
4. I'm Going Away (I'm Going Away)
5. The End Is Near (I'm Going Away)
6. Charmaine Champagne (I'm Going Away)
7. Cut the Cake (I'm Going Away)
8. Ray Bouvier (I'm Going Away)
9. Staring at the Steeple (I'm Going Away)
10. Even in the Rain (I'm Going Away)
11. Keep Me in the Dark (I'm Going Away)
12. Lost at Sea/ Charmaine Champagne (I'm Going Away)
13. Take Me Round Again (I'm Going Away)
14. Drive To Dallas (I'm Going Away)
15. Duplexes of the Dead (Widow City)
16. Ex-Guru (Widow City)
17. Single Again (EP)