clap clap blog: we have moved

Saturday, March 27, 2004
I saw the Fiery Furnaces last night with Matthew and some other folk. Wow. The way he put it before is hard to improve upon: they just rocked, which is not really how you'd describe the album versions of the songs. I guess the clearest way to show what they were doing is to relate the simple fact that they played 22 songs in 45 minutes--and this is a band with a lot of long songs! (Also, as Matthew pointed out, they played unreleased songs not even on their unreleased second album!) It was sort of like seeing a really, really good rock band play a non-stop medley of some more gentle band's material. And make no mistake: they did not stop more than twice. Everything just flowed into each other, and they did a great job of picking out the really key, killer points of each individual song. (I especially like that they opened with "I Lost My Dog," which is a hell of a song.) Seriously, even if you haven't entirely been able to get into their studio stuff, check them out live. It's just a bit 45 minute block of non-stop awesome.

More importantly, though, it was like getting another data point that finally lets you see what's going on. Their songs are sort of hard to penetrate; since so much of what they do is fucking around with arrangements, it's hard to get a handle on where everything is going without some serious close listening. I've listened to the new album twice and like it a lot, but still feel kinda lost in it; even the first one eludes me in places. But when you see them live and they explode the existing structure, it's like seeing how a puzzle works by seeing how it can be rearranged, like seeing the faces framing the vase. Matthew said that their live show makes the albums seem more considered, but to me it just reveals how fluid it all is. They don't improvise with melodies, they improvise the structure, and besides being really hard to do, it's really interesting. A pop song (and these are certainly pop songs) is not a set, unchanging thing; a great song can be rearranged and recombined and reconsidered and made wholly new. If a song doesn't work for some reason or another, you can always change it to make it different and possibly better. This appeals to my abstract sense of theoretical aesthetics, of course, but it's also really impressive how they can take these sort of subtle, complex songs and distill them to their basic, rocking roots.

Of course, it helped that their drummer was really good.

ADDENDUM: I'm currently listening to the album version of one of my favorites from last night, "Tropical Ice-Land," and the difference is sort of stunning. The great vocal melody is still there, and the arrangement on the album fits the theme of the song, with sort of a tropicalia thing going on. But when they did it live, they just took the chords and did them bigger and louder and left out the little guitar breaks; they just charged straight through. When I was listening to it, I desperately wanted to do a recording of it with that arrangement, and with that drummer, except with some really killer hook after each chorus. When they're going full-barrel and just stop for the final "ice land" of each chorus, it's totally trad but totally killer, too.