Fiery Furnaces, REM, Immigrant, Swervedriver, and more
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SONIC REDUCER More power, I say, to sibling twosome Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces. FF's forthcoming 51-track, double-CD/triple-LP retrospective, Remember (Thrill Jockey), has been burning up my ear holes for more than two hours now, charged with the power of fraught familial relations, rock-out thunderbolts, and mysterious blueberry boats. And I confess, part of my wonderment at their artistry stems from the fact I could never be in a band with my own bro. Judging from our childhood knock-out, tooth-and-claw smack downs, we'd be at each other throats within minutes of our first band practice and triumphantly playing bad vibes with the vanquished's finger bones. Those are our kind of family values.
I get the impression the Friedbergers' relationship is just as intense, if less bloodied, talking to a chatty, quirky, and disarmingly frank Matthew on the phone from New York City. "We weren't friends growing up necessarily," he concedes. "We were friends after I left home, but we have to talk to each other so much now that we aren't friends in the same way. We have to spend so much time together that it's ... ridiculous." Doubling back on himself, the ever-analytical 35-year-old guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist just as quickly shrugs it off. "But that's the way it goes."
Still, we all know that family bands traditionally have sold the dream of togetherness: feather-light musical fun with none of the fighting-for-grub-at-the-dinner-table heaviness. Seventies ensembles like the Osmonds cozied up to those warm 'n' fuzzy associations in the genre's TV-pop heyday at the very moment that the generation gap seemed its widest while more recent combos such as Danielson Famile somewhat self-consciously play off of them. Not so with Fiery Furnaces. An electrical, emotional current between the magnetic, sexily verbose vocalist Eleanor and musical mastermind Matthew runs like a live wire through their songs, many of which show up on Remember, which splices together reworkings from various shows in 2005 and onward. Overall the collection set for August release but available on tour is musically formidable, capturing the aggression of their live performances alongside drummer Robert D'Amico, percussionist Michael Goodman, and bassist Jason Loewenstein, and coming off as a little overwhelming.
"Yeah, it's long. It's long. It's long," Matthew drawls somewhat wearily. "People sometimes resent the idea that they have to sit down and listen to the whole goddamn thing. So we wanted to make it clear: you needn't do that. Please use it as you wish." Consider it, he says, chuckling, "straight background music. I mean, I could say that it's meant to be an opera about the band, starring the band." Or Matthew adds, rearranging his thoughts like a tune look at the songs as objects that show the group "aging." Or try it this way: "It made sense to have the record be about the songs traveling, so to speak. What kind of journeys the songs went on, I say with a smirk," he says, a playful smirk clearly audible over his cell.
That searching sense of play and enthusiasm has kept the pair going as FF, which Matthew readily admits he never thought would last this long. Growing up in Oak Park, Ill., he performed in teenage rock combos before his younger sister summoned up the courage with encouragement from friends and her broheim to make music. The Brooklyn twosome decided to record their songs in 2002, he recalls, and "then we thought, well, we'd better try to be good."
"It's no accident we have the same taste," he explains, though they aren't the type of sibs who were "giving each other supportive hugs all the time." "That's because our taste was formed by the same things, given to the extent she heard all the records that I listened to when I was a teenager. She's younger than me, so she heard them at the same time, whether she wanted to or not, because I played them loudly. Even more than that, we understand each other the things we refer to when thinking of what's meant to be good in rock."
For the FF, that means making songs with the scraps of ephemera found in audience members' pockets, otherwise known as their "Democ-Rock" project, launched in honor of the 2008 election season, which the ever-prolific band will record in the near future, and a funk companion album to last year's '70s-rock-esque Widow City (Thrill Jockey). It's all grist for the mill, agrees Matthew, although Remember will stand as the document he feels the most emotional about. "It's the story of my life in the last few years," he says, laughing. "It sounds like me trying to work hard and do something nice." *
THE FIERY FURNACES
Thurs/29, 9 p.m., $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF
WINKING AT REM
REM's Peter Buck was a proto-indie-rock guru of sorts back in the late '80s day thanks to his impeccable taste and his way of shining a light on then-unsung predecessors like the Velvet Underground. So it wrecked my head to hear back in 2001 that he was charged in an air-rage incident with allegedly assaulting flight attendants and smashing up a first-class British Airways cabin, all of which he was later cleared of. Anger, however, has its uses, as his band has found on their new, energized CD, Accelerate (Warner Bros), a recording that tackles the tension between REM and its enraging world, rather than creating an otherworldly realm for the listener à la their early works. "I think it's kind of hard to live where we live, at the time we live, and not be a little frustrated with the way the world is and the way our country is run," Buck says with a sigh, from his Seattle home. "I have to say, I don't really trust people who aren't angry about life in general or particular issues."
May 31, 6 p.m.; June 1, 5 p.m.
UC Berkeley, Berk.