Discourses and dissertations abound about the Fiery Furnaces and how Blueberry Boat had Tommy pinballing inside of Slaughterhouse-Five‘s time displacement, but not too long ago, “lit” Furnaces just meant they were a hot rock band. And not just because of how many footnotes and citations they’ve accrued, or how their new Rehearsing My Choir pulls off rock’s most politely tolerated play since the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery”—naturally performed October 14 Off-Broadway.
Gone are the hyper-medleys that Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger play(doh)ed and crayoned over, although the velocity toward breakneck changes remains. The songs off Gallowsbird’s Bark that bookended the Town Hall show were speedily rendered, but what do you expect with Eleanor’s jittery metabolism? She eats a gross of doughnuts on “I’m Gonna Run” and not even 30 minutes later the weird medicinal ones baked for “Guns Beneath the Counter.”
Now I’ve baked brownies with my granny, but never once cooked up a scheme like the Friedbergers do, making non-kin sit and wiggle through their granny’s yarns on Rehearsing, which they play straight through midset. Grandmother Olga Sarantos, the ornery octogenarian, reads on disc in a craggily meter that forces Matt to play Harry Partch, all prickly and unbalanced just to match that voice, a creature only a grandma could love.
Live, there’s no Olga, so they go with Eleanor’s younger model. She reads off a music stand as the band paves over all the creaks, cracks, and pothole-size generation gaps that riddle the album. From the hammering of “The Garfield El” to the end of the line, Matt’s seated at the Rhodes, and powered by a rhythm section including Sebadoh’s Jason Loewenstein, they lay rock-heavy asphalt, making highways and songs out of the concept’s morass.
The longest part of the trip done, they cut back recklessly through the catalog, making quay curs like “Bow Wow” and “My Dog” more rabid and thrashy. During the encore, Matt’s nasal drawl in “Inspector Blancheflower” suggests their future plans for Bitter Tea, their so-called Dylan-esque next. Whether such development happens at Town or City Hall, that straight streeting will get called progress.