The Fiery Furnaces--"Charmaine Champagne" (mp3)
Here's what blogging has done for me:
1. Much as I love music, I tend to keep getting set in my ways, being dismissive of new bands and trends and falling back on the quality stuff from the past.
2. One Christmas Day, a few years back, I start wondering what some people considered to be the best songs/CDs of the year. I was getting Entertainment Weekly at the time, and their choices were always kind of interesting. So I did the Google search and there were all kinds of lists from places great and small. And that was how I discovered music blogs. Before that, I didn't know, really, what a blog was, except for the political blogs like http://www.truthout.org/.
And people I didn't know were writing compelling arguments for the best songs of the year by bands I had never even heard of. In particular, there was a song called "Rubies" by Destroyer that a blog listed as the best song of the year. Intrigued, I downloaded it and quickly fell under the spell of this sprawling, sloppy, free-association 8-minute opus. Yes, folks, I had an epiphany and realized (to paraphrase Shakespeare), "There is more to modern music than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Bob."
3. So Billy and I come back from our annual trip to New Orleans and decide to start a music and writing blog. Now we're over 350 posts in. And when I'm putting up 2-3 posts a week, I can't just go back to the CD collection over and over, nor do I want to. So I listen to what is on the other blogs and get informed about what's out there. And slowly, slowly, slowly I begin to grasp the the larger musical landscape. That Destroyer, for example, is a spin-off of the New Pornographers, just like A.C. Newman and Neko Case.
4. Which takes me a huge leap forward to Chicago, now, and someone in my seminar saying, "Hey, the Fiery Furnaces are playing, do you know them?" and me thinking/saying, "Yes, I think I have a couple of their songs and I know a little bit about them." And that's enough for me to go. That's enough for me to buy tickets to the Pitchfork Music festival where, again, I scan the list of performers and realize, 'I know this band and that band, not well, but they seem pretty good.'
5. So, armed with that little bit of knowledge, how can I turn down a Fiery Furnaces concert being put on for free in Millenium Park, just a couple of blocks from where I'm staying? Answer: I can't.
And, live, the Furnaces are a revelation. While the occasional track I've heard here and there seem to have some pretensions towards art rock, when you see them live, they are the real deal, the stripped down, singer-guitar-bass-drums. Live, they are the young Pretenders, vocalist Eleanor Friedberger half-singing, half-talking her way through the songs (without the sneer!), kneeling to take herself out of the picture while the band jams. Brother Matt is a superb guitarist who apparently can do anything he wants on the instrument whenever he wants to, but most of the time he holds back, playing jarring rhythms and odd little inserts between vocals or toying with vocals. And the drummer just kicks ass. He drives the songs through all their twists and turns, allowing the rest of the band to explore. This is a band that needs no keyboards or synthetic noodles; the songs come alive best with just the basics.
Great show. Glad I went. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.