Acclaimed, lady-led bands Grand Ole Party and the Fiery Furnaces played the the Bluebird Theater on Saturday night, a show that was “game on” from start to finish. The three distinctive acts each offered a highly-concentrated musical energy that left little time to grab another drink.
The turnout wasn’t bad, just a little light — leaving you with a “No one really gets this just yet,” inner-elitist boost. By the time Grand Ole Party was up, the fans that did arrive for the cause were pumped to see singer-drummer Kristen Gundred’s tiny body and huge voice positioned front and center.
The striking enthusiasm only builds with this three-piece from San Diego, and seeing them live guarantees your hips will move and your ears will be locked on each up-tempo lick. It is fast, feisty music, rich with bluesy swagger, giving it a big-band indie-pop feel. The crowd went wild for “Nasty Habits” (off debut full-length “Humanimals”) with its gut-punching lyrics that scream, “Love, lust, nasty habits make us who we are.” GOP seems more than ready to headline its own tour in 2009, and we look forward to it.
Last and never least was the Fiery Furnaces, that fever-inducing, deadpan-handling, rock-heavies from Brooklyn, touring in support of last fall’s “Window City.” The band is built on keyboardist Matthew Friedberger’s tongue-tied, uber-eccentric narratives, while his sister Eleanor stands center stage, effortlessly articulating every awkwardly timed lyric with a guitar in hand.
At times the arrangements and tempo changes sound disjointed and discomforting, but the band’s ability to find order in chaos is impressive. Since their first album, “Gallowsbird’s Bark” (2003), their live and recorded material has been in a constant state of flux and progression.
In a live setting, the band tends to cut and paste electro-stuttering arrangements over old and new songs, casting them in a new light. It’s hard to cling to any of your album favorites when they’re turned upside-down by rhythmic changes, but you can still find the pulse when you hear Eleanor re-apply the lyrics.
There’s not much music out there that can get a woman to pound out lyrics like, “Elias Doxia Didou, son of a bitch back in Turku, sang me a song or two, and I wrote them down” (from “Up in the North,” one of the lead-off tracks of the night). These alterations keep this band and its audience on their toes — and no one can keep up the way Fiery Furnaces can.
Aside from the dapper drums, it was the electro-stumbling, jazzy piano sounds that pulled each tongue-twisting lyric into the next stanza. There are no instructions to follow this music, so you may not know when the beginning meets the end, but it makes each song feel organic and unrefined. The tendency was to keep your eyes on Eleanor’s erotically masculine frame, cowboy boots and tight blue jeans — watching her affect every change without a glitch. The sound of her vocals alone can make you sweat while she belts out lyrics like, “Vibrate, buzz-buzz, ringing beat — babe what time is it now?” on the song “Police Sweater Blood Vow.”
She pulled out variations of other numbers including “Clear Signal from Cairo” and the mellow “Benton Harbor Blues,” with lyrics like, “I rode a bike in the snow to the mini-mart; I thought of the ways that I’ve broke my own heart.” Eleanor’s voice is clear and relatable to bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but contains grubbier rock ‘n’ roll element. Although her stage performance seemingly lacks at first, it somehow makes the show that much more enchanting and charming — with a big dash of sex appeal.
As they’ve proven, the Fiery Furnaces will keep doing their thing whether we like them or not, consistently testing familiar musical boundaries. Their approach is so well timed, rehearsed and polished that it lends itself the feel of an improv spoken-word jam. Not everything they do is easy to wrap your head around, but there are big gems among the mayhem. You just have to learn to keep up.
Reverb contributor Lisa Gedgaudas also writes for Colorado Music Buzz.
See more of Reverb contributor Laurie Scavo’s photography.