Fiery Furnace to scorch Club Congress

By Mark Sussman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Traveling is just part of being in almost any band. Back in the day, The Beatles had enough clout to stay off the road and in the studio for most of their career, perpetuating themselves through record sales, radio play and wave of popularity that began when they stepped onto the tarmac and still hasn't quite stopped. Brian Wilson, the genius behind The Beach Boys, didn't tour with the rest of the band and spent a good chunk of the '70s in bed.

The Fiery Furnaces aren't so lucky.

"We haven't stopped touring since we started," said singer Eleanor Friedberger. "We've been on tour since last summer. Having all the press has been great, but we haven't really sold that many records. My life has changed completely, but I won't be able to buy a house or do anything permanently life-changing."

Friedberger and her brother Matt form the core of the Fiery Furnaces, who's debut album Gallowbird's Bark was released last fall and the Furnaces kicked off their yearlong tour. But before they left, they already had another record in the can, this year's amazing and bizarre Blueberry Boat.

"When we did Gallowbird's Bark, most of the songs we were playing were the older songs," said Friedberger. "The Blueberry Boat songs were newer, so we gave priority to older songs and put them on Gallowbird's."

The difference between the two records is astonishing. While Gallowbird's Bark is, for all intents and purposes, a blues album (albeit a strange one), Blueberry Boat contains electro-acoustic noise, epic adventure narratives clocking in at over 10 minutes and more than its fair share of gibberish.

"The first record sounds kind of rough to me now," said Friedberger. "We only had three days to record the whole thing because we were paying with our own money. I would have done a couple things more than once. (Blueberry Boat) sounds the way it does because we had more time and money."

But Blueberry Boat's virtues as a record become its pitfalls on the road. Because of its sonic density, its dynamics and its varied instrumentation, it would be impossible to give a reading of Blueberry Boat's songs in a live setting. Luckily, the Fiery Furnaces weren't particularly interested in that anyway.

"I think something we're kind of holding ourselves up to these days is playing everything completely different live," said Friedberger. "Now we play one long medley over the course of 30 to 50 minutes. It makes us focus more. We change songs radically from how they are on the record. On this tour, there's a line from this song and then another line from the next song and then one from a previous song. When we see a band we like to see them do something different onstage, not just reproduce the record."

In a sense, The Fiery Furnaces get the opportunity to reinterpret their own material, something most artists don't do until they are old and long past their prime. The Fiery Furnaces are luckier than they think.

The Fiery Furnaces will play Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Tuesday. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. and the show is 21+.