Eleanor Friedberger: Stripped Down and Lyrically Unmatched

Eleanor Friedberger
The Hideout – Chicago, IL
7/20/2011

Eleanor Friedberger accomplished the rare feat of making Chicago’s best and coziest venue, The Hideout (sorry, Subterranean), even more intimate. Although Eleanor drew several from her incredible July 12 release, “My Last Summer,” she also brought a few equally gorgeous and gripping unreleased numbers. Relying only on minimal microphone and guitar effects, Eleanor’s grasp of lyrical and melody structure were pronounced on stripped down versions of her studio album that Pitchfork already pinned as a “cohesive, uncluttered document.”

Eleanor, one-half of the now decade-old-plus indie-staple, The Fiery Furnaces, was being modest when she thanked the sold-out (knowledgeable 150-people crowd that wasn’t solely comprised of her mother’s friends. With the exception of stage banter that revealed some funny and exciting information, the $5 dollar show had no frills – in a good way – no encore, and no opening bands. This said, I can afford to go through each track played:

Eleanor opened with the standout “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight,” somehow recreating the album’s cool vocal echoes and the call-and-response with herself. The stream-of-consciousness, conversational, and at times colloquial lyrics, mixed with her proper and eloquent voice and great vocabulary really brings out lyrics such as, “…And I can’t explain/ Why there’s nothing wrong, With long goodbyes/ If we could only keep, Our mouths and our eyes dry”

I disagree with Eleanor in claiming “Heaven” diverged most from the album live, at least conceptually, as the wistful “Scenes From Bensonhurst” took me a minute to recognize. Few songwriters are able to collage consecutive lines as successfully as Eleanor did with “Oh, I get lost with the smell, of those horses/ Who do people tell you you look like?”

By song three, and having fully explored “My Last Summer” over the last three weeks, I realized I could put together a pretty solid essay on songwriting with attention to Eleanor’s approach. This one may have been my favorite, which Eleanor describes as “about a guy and all the girls he has fallen for,” though, not a player, just an older gentleman. I would need to rehear the song to see how coherent this story is – generally Furnaces’ songs with the exception of ones like “My Dog Was Lost” tend to jump from scene to scene like in a dream. Friedberger has the ability to make the words “hotel” and “Mustang” seem grand, while seamlessly switching gears to an analogy about Dungaree jeans that got the audience laughing.

Eleanor’s entertaining and intriguing bicycle song “Owl’s Head Park” worked far better without a backing band than the stronger “My Mistakes” single; however, not too fear, Eleanor seems giddy to come back with a proper band right around Halloween time. Eleanor decided to spring into a cover of “Trouble Comes Running,” my favorite from my least favorite (and most recent) Spoon album because, naturally, Spoon’s Brit Daniel licks Eleanor’s face in the “My Mistakes” music video.

I am assuming the next one was another new one, it featured lyrics of a stilted litany with a chorus of “Don’t Interrupt Me Girl.”  Just when a line seems like it could fail, Eleanor saves it; in this song she starts with the awesome “I was taking my pulse” followed by the played “I was writing a diary,” and then saves it, “I was looking at foods for their dates of expiry.”

Eleanor seemed very apologetic not to have a backing band, and she joked during moments when the instrumentation required more than one person, especially during her favorite moment on the album in the next song, “Heaven.”

Another new one with the catchy chorus, “Frequent affection/ occasional rejection/ often offered in the wrong direction,” was a fun song, and made for a good combo with the strong “Early Earthquake.” “Tropical Iceland” served as a reward for Fiery Furnaces fans, but I personally would have rather had another solo song, or better yet, one of my all-time favorites, her version of “Cut The Cake.” “Inn of the Seventh Ray” and her plan to “watch Footloose with the biggest bottle of vodka in the world” came next.

The finale had perhaps the best lyrics of all, and it begs the question when this next release or EP is going to drop; unfortunately, there will probably be considerate delay. All the more reason to catch her on this smallish tour, and when she rolls around Chicago again in a few months. Here references to being high hold together to the shuffled verses with lines of the “suburbs of your pleasure,” “synchronized showers,” toothpastes and ointments, and warnings not to stare into the sun.

While Eleanor seemed bummed and apologetic not to have a backing band, I found it to be a privilege; with only the coolest dark green and black guitar, an Illinois t-shirt she found at her mom’s earlier in the day, she was able to boast her strengths: vocal melodies and strong lyrical structure. Definitely one of my favorite shows of 2011.

For more video from the night check out THIS YouTube Channel!

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