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The Fiery Furnaces heat up Solar Culture

Photo courtesy of Capitol Records
The familial pair that makes up The Fiery Furnaces will set Solar Culture Gallery ablaze Wednesday. Well, the Furnaces probably won't set the place on fire, as its latest album describes an elderly woman reflecting on her life. Should be an upbeat show.
By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 22, 2005
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This is your grandmother's music. Yes, the new album by The Fiery Furnaces, Rehearsing My Choir, is just the kind of music your grandmother would make if she were privileged enough to be backed by two dangerously talented grandchildren. The Fiery Furnaces, comprises Friedberger siblings Eleanor and Matt, have been making some of the most original and exciting music in recent history.

Now, the band again pushes the boundaries of sonic experimentation with Rehearsing My Choir, an 11-song anthology of an elderly woman reflecting on her life. On each track, listeners will notice a new and temporary addition to the Furnaces' sound, their grandmother, Olga Sarantos. Both Olga and Eleanor sing on Rehearsing My Choir as the elderly woman reflects on past and present times. Meanwhile, Matt performs a variable cornucopia of musical theatre in the background. Eleanor notes that the unique album idea came about because time was of the essence.

"You know my grandmother was becoming very sick," Eleanor said. "She's turning 83 this next month, so it was kind of like it's now or never. She was always the real musician in the family. She loves music very much, so we thought if anyone should be making records it should be her."

However, taking an interesting idea and transforming it into something a record company would release was the difficult task. Eleanor explains that it may have been the unknown that allowed the record to get made.

"It was kind of like we always talked about doing it as a joke in a way," Eleanor said. "I mean, we were serious but we didn't know if a record company would want us to make a record with our grandmother and Matt presented it to (Jeff Travis) who runs Rough Trade and he was kind of like 'OK.' I don't know what he expected."

The album itself, besides sounding as strange as one would imagine a record of two quirky indie rockers and their grandmother would sound, is full of intriguing tales rooted in fiction as well as fact.

"What we've been trying to tell people is our grandmother is playing a character who's very similar to herself," Eleanor said. "I mean there's lots of very factual details about Chicago and about our grandmother's life too, but there are lots of made-up stories too. But like the song called 'The Candymaker's Knife in my Handbag' is an absolutely true story about her getting drunk when she met her father-in-law for the first time and going to a cooking school and getting sick in her friend's husband's car."

The band also has another album coming out next year called Bitter Tea. Their last album, Blueberry Boat, was a 76-minute prog-rock-opera that had fans and foes matching wits, but Eleanor expects less contention over Bitter Tea.

"It sounds very different," Eleanor said. "People will still think it's a Fiery Furnaces' record, but it's a lot poppier than the stuff we've done before. It sounds more Devo-ish. It kind of has like a '60s girl-group kind of feeling in the lyrics. It's great, I love it."

The band will bring their unique show to Tucson on Wednesday. Their last live outings had them performing 30- to 50-minute "medley" sets with their songs weaving in and out of each other.

"It started out where we'd be practicing and we'd play a song and depending on what key that song ended in we'd try to play another song that started in the key that the previous song ended in and it became like a game almost," Eleanor said.

However, this time around the band will perform in a more traditional way. Almost, as they still plan to bring their usual idiosyncrasies to the mix.

Although Olga will not be joining the band for the tour, she is proud of them and loves their fulltime occupation as musicians.

"She loves the fact that we are playing music for a living. She thinks that's absolutely fantastic," Eleanor said.

To see The Fiery Furnaces sans grandma, head over to Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., for the all-ages show. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, no word whether there will be a senior discount.

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