Fiery Furnaces | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Fiery Furnaces

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Playing with whoever turns up as their rhythm section, sister and brother Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger (New Yorkers who grew up in Oak Park) survey the widest imaginable swath of American music without sounding like fussy anthropologists or ironic hijackers. The songs on their debut, Gallowsbird's Bark (Rough Trade), are natural distillations of a century of sound, recombining elements of rural blues, old-time folk, garage rock, punk, and new wave into combinations at once odd and organically right. Swooshes of creepy analog synth soften a coruscating guitar rattle on the throbbing, Suicide-like "Leaky Tunnel"; a clanking, "Chopsticks"-simple piano figure folds into an infectious Kinks-style guitar riff on "Inca Rag/Name Game," a fever dream about traveling through Spanish island resorts with the mummy of conquistador Francisco Pizarro; a cover of Dock Boggs's "Old Rub Alcohol Blues" rereads that desolate tune as a pretty singer-songwriter confessional. The arrangements are built around Matthew's raucous parlor-room piano, but the music's focal point is Eleanor's voice, a beguiling instrument with Patti Smith power, Debbie Harry plushness, and a cocky sneer reminiscent of Bob Dylan. Between her breathless rants ("I slit my wrists with my Swingline / Copied myself 500 times / I pierced my ears with a three-hole punch / Ate 12 dozen donuts for lunch") she punctures the din with some superbly jagged guitar solos. It's one of the most exciting albums I've heard this year, and their live show is reportedly even better. Hidden Cameras headline and Tallulah opens: Monday, November 17, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Scotland Yard Gospel Choir headlines and Like Young opens: Wednesday, November 19, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Amy Giunta.

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