When we initially heard about the Fiery Furnaces plan to play a show at Town Hall, we were excited to perhaps catch them play a slightly quieter, reserved, venue appropriate set. While we have always enjoyed their lively club shows immensely, seeing them in the historic theatre should have been a treat. It was a catastrophe.
To start, the sound was dreadful. From our excellent seats in the front of the balcony, we couldn't make out a single word being sung. The acoustics, which we had remembered being excellent at Town Hall, were a complete mess. The drums dominated the mix, echoing off themselves and completely washing out all vocals and most of the other instrumentals. It was a disaster. The only enjoyable moments of the show were when the drummer backed out for half a verse or so. Unfortunately, the momentary calm was usually followed by an epileptic mess of drum thrashing that ruined any sort of solace previously created. A large chunk of the already mostly empty balcony just walked out of the show mid set. (Including the couple next to us that we sold our extra tickets to outside. Sorry guys!)
The atrocious sound, however, was really only part of the problem...
The rest of the show just didn't have the same magic that our previous FF experiences have had. No longer was the set a seamless, cut-and-paste medley of their songs. They put a couple together here and there, but the rearrangements weren't nearly as diverse or interesting as we have previously seen. Perhaps this goes back to the sound issues as well, but whatever the excuse, it didn't work.
Also, there’s the issue of them performing the new “Grandmother Album” which hit the file sharing servers a month or so back and has been completely panned by the early critics. While the album features Matt and Eleanor Friedberger’s Grandmother doing spoken word over the band’s instrumentals, Eleanor mostly handled her “vocals” on stage. The songs all have occasional and very brief moments of clarity, but for the most part they are muddled messes that do not live up to the bands previous efforts. They dedicated a large section of the set to these songs, and it only helped in removing the audience further from the show.
On a positive note, Matt and Eleanor came out for an encore as a duo (no drums!) to sing a couple of excellent renditions of a few older songs, including the epic ‘Chief Inspector Brancherflower.’ Had the entire show been more along this vain, we would have certainly enjoyed ourselves much more. We hate to come down so hard on a band that brazenly defies conformity and pushes boundaries like the Furnaces do, but sometimes when you choose that path, not everything always works out. While we were disappointed with this show, by no means will it be enough for us to give up on one of our all time favorite live bands. We will still look forward to seeing them again next time they come to town. We just hope that they pick venues to complement their sound a little bit better next time.