Aftermath: The Fiery Furnaces' Indie-Rock Orobouros Is Nearly Too Meta for Walter's
[Ed. Note: An orobouros is the mythological image of a snake eating its own tail. Look it up.]
Photos by Jody Perry
The narrative arc of the meta - yes, the meta has a narrative arc; wanna fight? - has officially been fucked with, and the audience it once had is now like; seriously, what's going on here, are they messing with us? Here's what the narrative used to look like: Band X releases a record, the record is good; great, even. Band X does the junket, Pitchfork loves them, band releases another record (esoteric, hard to like perhaps, but progressive and polysyllabic), die-hards stay with them. Three years pass with the touring and then the not touring, band X contributes a song to a covers album (most likely a Daniel Johnston tribute) and most people say they remember them when. Two more years pass, band X is kinda-sorta forgotten about and then, finally, they hit the festival circuit (if they're small enough, they'll play SXSW, but free day shows only) and once again become relevant, and their fans say they never forgot. That's it, and that's always it. Mostly. Fiery Furnaces on the other hand, couldn't give a shit.
On Take Me Round Again, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger's ninth record, the brother/sister duo have included 12 songs where they cover themselves. Yep. The same 12 songs that appeared on I'm Going Away, released only four months prior. Thinking 'What the fuck?' is normal, and Fiery Furnaces still don't care. What we have is a conundrum of a riddle that goes: What do you call a band who tours regularly playing songs from their own studio records now heard in a live format (a concert; no problem yet) so heard slightly differently? Stay with us here: This band then goes on to those same concerts playing songs from a record that was released in November, a covers record of a previous record by the same band containing the same songs released in July, while they toured playing those same songs, sung differently because it's a concert while telling the audience, "We're going to hear the same songs as we heard last time, and this time around they're going to sound even different than they did last time, even though last time they sounded different." Almost done: "We Fiery Furnaces don't like to sound like our studio albums because we prefer playing with the arrangements of the stuff we did in the studio," they'll tell you, "so every night you will hear the same set of songs that sound different from the albums for sale over there - please buy them, we're a little bit poor - and from every show you've been to." A wha? Because of this (imagine), audiences are getting a little too confused; at Walter's Friday night, everyone seemed mostly bored. Or maybe betrayed by the comfort of their own entitlement.
The show, for the most part, was greatly entertaining and over-the-top intelligent, with the Furnaces providing, for a bit over an hour, songs from any number of their nine studio albums. The four they sang from Take Me Round Again - "Keep Me in the Dark," "Drive to Dallas," "Ray Bouvier" and "Cut the Cake" - seemed to be the ones that translated the best to a venue like Walter's: Semi-dark and halfway rotted (in a good way). The audience didn't get into them as much as perhaps they should have; and the only explanation we can think of is that most people were likely there to hear the songs they knew - ones from Blueberry Boat, probably, that being the Furnaces' most accessible album by far (and they didn't sing anything from it). Eleanor clearly won the sibling battle this night (as we would imagine she does most nights); the crowd was far more into the songs she sang lead on than the ones brother Matthew did. The beautiful "Rub-Alcohol Blues" opened the set and continued with "Charmaine Champagne," on to "Duplexes of the Dead." The first act's highlight had to be "Ex Guru," from the far too underrated Widow City.
"Evergreen" was surprisingly well received by the crowd, as was "Bitter Tea." Overall, the set was eclectic and well thought-out, but the show seemed a little too meh somehow; maybe it was the cold. But Fiery Furnaces is one of those bands who is far too ahead of its creative time, devising tours around the Dadaist idea of copycatting your own material for the sake of a backwards sort of originality. No other artist or band in the super-duper-saturated field of art-rock would have the balls to do such a thing, and that's probably capitalistically sound decision making based on the lack of record sales Fiery Furnaces see these days. They have all but fallen off the map of college-rock radio, and it feels wrong. They should be at the top of the indie heap with their adherence to the rules of the postmodern ethos that permeates the pages of "relevant" blogs, but they're not any more. Never would we have imagined a band could get too out there for the hip, hip writers of indie yore, but Fiery Furnaces have done it. Maybe it's a win for them... who knows? They deserve better, but they probably still don't care.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.