When you’re half of a band as well known as The Fiery Furnaces, people, right or wrong, are going to have expectations. Eleanor Friedbergers’s first victory over those expectations this week was the release of her excellent new solo album, Last Summer. Breezy, poppy and loud when it’s gotta be, Last Summer is an unmitigated hit, as well as being one of our favorite records of the year so far. Her second victory over those expectations this week was the performance that she delivered to a welcoming crowd assembled in the Back Room of the Black Cat on Tuesday, the night of that records release.
My expectation for the show was that it would be somewhat reserved, but perfectly serviceable. I also (wrongly) assumed that Eleanor might be the type who is solely focused on the music, acknowledging the crowd once in a while, but for the most part just performing her material to the people who paid to see it.
Taking the stage looking like they stepped straight out of 1982, Friedberger and her band proceed to not only defy my expectations, but left them shattered in pieces on the floor. I’m happy to announce that the New York new wave scene of the late 70’s/early 80’s is apparently alive and well, and it’s leader is Eleanor Friedberger.
Armed with new wave hairdos and ripped tees, the band took the material that already works so well on record, and turned it into a muscular, almost punk take on the modern female singer/songwriter. If you had told me that we had been transported back to a 1978 CBGB’s, and that the band on stage was opening up for Patti Smith or Blondie, I wouldn’t have questioned it for a second. And I guess it makes sense as Friedberger and her band ARE from Brooklyn, but I’ve never seen a band more accurately capture the spirit of what was going on in those times then what was witnessed Tuesday night.
The show was obviously a little short, mainly because there is only one album of material to choose from (though the band did cover The Fiery Furnaces “Tropical Iceland”), but the way those tunes were delivered made the set seem bigger, as if it might burst at the seams. The style/sound that this group has created for touring Last Summer is so good in fact that one has to wonder if it might not be worth it to rerecord the entire album with these musicians in a live setting. The music they are creating is energetic, inspired and most importantly, fun as hell.
Closing the evening by singing a song she claimed to have written just last week, Friedberger mumble-hummed her way through some lyrics that either were misremembered or simply hadn’t been written yet, while the crowd stood transfixed. It was a simple moment, and one that was more about an artist simply being excited to be able to share their material with the audience then it was about being Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces.
After finishing, she said a simple goodnight, the lights came up and then Friedberger made her way from the stage to the merch table to greet her fans and make sure that nobody left without a copy of her new record. There was no pretense. No otherness. Just a fairly famous musician tearing down the wall between us and them so that we can all just sit back and enjoy the music that Friedberger so clearly enjoy making.
What can I say? My expectations completely shattered I’ve been won over and am now one of the converted. Eleanor, if your reading this, come back soon, and often. We’ll be waiting. And maybe by the next time you come back that new song will be finished and it will be hanging out with the rest of your fantastic, fantastic songs.