Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces
turns up the heat under the Kills at Oakland’s
Fox Theater on Sept. 9.
By Jud Cost
I gotta tellya –
using the ominous introductory parlance Tony Soprano would employ when certain
unexpected events have taken place in the New Jersey
waste-management bi z- Eleanor Friedberger, as the support act tonight at Oakland’s Fox Theater,
pulled off something unexpected. Without even intending to do it, she’s whacked
the Kills at their own headline gig.
I haven’t seen
anything quite like this since 1976 when opening act Dr. Feelgood, featuring
high-strutting guitarist Wilko Johnson and gruff vocalist Lee Brilleaux, made
Bad Company, the headliner at San
Francisco’s Winterland auditorium, look like
yesterday’s newspapers. If the Kills react the way the Monkees did during an
early-1967 tour that included the then-unknown Jimi Hendrix Experience as the
support act, they’ll tie the can to this Friedberger person and her band post
haste. The Kills are getting upstaged.
already put together a solid, 10-year indie-rock resumé as one-half of the
Fiery Furnaces with her brother, the guitar-playing Matthew Friedberger. And
now, backed by a terrific trio composed of guitarist John Eatherly, bassist
Matt Asti and drummer James Canty, she’s managed to summon up the sound and
(with her blunt-cut bangs and faded-denim shirt and pants) even the look of
Chrissie Hynde’s brilliant original set of Pretenders before they started
dropping like flies in the early ’80s.
band makes the Kills’ ultra-loud show seem like so much cake decoration
consisting mostly of hyperactive strobes and flashy mirrors. She also now
shares the rare Bay Area distinction of an early career arc that resembles
something launched by NASA. From the humble beginnings of her solo show just
two months ago at San Francisco’s modest Hotel Utah (capacity of about 65)
she’s skyrocketed to playing her second local solo gig at the magnificent Fox
Theater which holds about three thousand patrons. What’s next in this series,
the 50 thousand-seat home of the S.F. Giants at AT&T Park?
When I told
Friedberger before the Hotel Utah show in July that I was going to review her
performance that night, she seemed alarmed. “Oh no, really?” she
said. “Why don’t you come back in September instead? I’ll have the whole
band here with me then.” I disobeyed orders that night and gave her solo
set a glowing assessment. But now I know why she requested the delay. This band
is truly something special. No doubt, they played most of her recently-released
first solo album, Last Summer (Merge), but the songs sounded somehow different, delivered by this band.
Compared to her
chatty between-songs patter at the Utah,
where she seemed, in a good way, to have been vaccinated with a phonograph
needle, she says little tonight. Only a brief remark or two, something like,
“Hey, it’s Friday night. Why isn’t everybody drinking?” deters her
from an all-business approach. She introduces the next-to-last song as
“something new.” Of course, they’re all new to most of this crowd,
who give Friedberger a very decent response after each number. Who knows, a
year from now she just might be headlining the joint, herself.