When the Fiery Furnaces hit the stage, it's all about the phenomenon known as Eleanor Friedberger. I literally think she entered Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, draped her winter coat on the edge of the stage and started belting out the first song. (Brooklyn buzz bands, take note: this type of cool is earned, not bought.)
Friedberger sings like a woman who knows how to roll with the punches that life can throw, while slinging some tough yet tender jabs back in your direction. Her off-the-cuff lyrical riffs hold together the Furnaces's blues-y, prog rock-influenced improvs and let the group to meld each song into one another instead of engaging in a lot of stage banter (which is very refreshing). The tactic turns each live show into a special, one-off concept album.
When you really think about it, some of the best material from the band simply involves catchy ditties, about uncertain, possibly unstable characters. Musically, tracks like "Single Again" and "I'm in No Mood" seem to evoke a playful, almost whimsical mood … but with a bit more reflection, it becomes quite clear that there's a lurid, sometimes painful lesson to many of these storybook numbers.
The main songwriting duties fall to Eleanor's brother, Matthew, who at times seems to capture the psyche of the modern EveryWoman in four-minute chunklets. The heroines of these songs are brassy and impulsive, but somewhat naïve and unsure of their native surroundings, which, ironically, has also been said about Eleanor Friedberger’s stage performances.
But I say go ahead and add Eleanor to the ever-growing herd of notable band frontwomen (see: Karen O, Karin from Fever Ray, Beth Ditto, etc). Eleanor may not be the leader of the pack, but she’s definitely the one to keep your eye on.