Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, October 19, 2004
FIERY FURNACES / ROGERS SISTERS / BLACK LIPSTICK, 10/15/04, Bottom of The Hill, San Francisco......

Arrived in time to see some of Austin, TX's BLACK LIPSTICK, who put forward a fresh-faced but altogether mediocre take on 3rd-LP Velvet Underground. It was sort of akin to the much-maligned "jangle" bands of the mid-80s, college rock to the extreme, with maybe a little more oomph and feedback and at times, decent Dream Syndicate-like songs. The later, only intermittently interesting Dream Syndicate. One look at the bass player and you know he definitely collects records. I'd sort of tuned out the ROGERS SISTERS since their first CD, but I was hoping that would bring the walloping funk/noise they threatened to bust out on that CD. Their set this evening was like a time machine tribute to the 1981 Downtown New York scene, complete with some funky fresh new wave haircuts, searing BUSH TETRAS-esque thumping, and some good low-end riffs that exploded in a dozen directions every time a pedal was hopped upon. I'm pretty sure "Basquiat" was hovering in the corner with a 50-cent Yuengling and there were Puerto Rican looters lifting old Magnavox TVs outside. They did my favorite track from that first one, "I Dig a Hole" and a small handful of others from their new one. Their whammo 30-minute set helped leave a nice funky fresh new wave taste in my mouth.

One word of advice if you venture out to see the FIERY FURNACES, my new favorite band, as they wrap up their US tour: do not do so unless you're already wrapped up in their bizarre world of operatic pop, song cycles, maximum electric piano and fuzzed-out aggro rock. You'll be lost to their considerable charms forever. As advertised, the band performed a 47-minute medley (start: 12:02am, end: 12:49am) of just about every song from their two records, sometimes starting one number up with lyrics from the middle of another one, or speeding up a 20-second section of one, then deliberately butchering a 15-second section of another, before racing through yet another chunk of tuneage. Back to back to back to back, with not a single beer break in between. I'm torn between two competing thoughts: whether their attempt to annoy, confuse and befuddle is a reflection of a needlessly haughty & contemptuous attitude toward their fans, and whether the fact I still really enjoyed it means they're just a step ahead of everyone else right now & are dancing to a different card. I remain totally hooked into their CDs, even the "controversial" "Blueberry Boat", which I simply cannot stop playing. There's just no one else out there who are writing songs this complex yet with the hook/line/sinker impact of a steamroller. I can only now compare them to GUIDED BY VOICES circa "Alien Lanes" in their ability to worm a line or a song section into my brain to the point of exhaustion. Exhaustion is the only word I can think of when I think about the band trying to master the set they pulled off last Friday night; singer Eleanor Friedberger started losing her voice five minutes into the set as it degenerated into an appropriate Patti Smith-like rasp, and the frantic pace of the hardcore-tempo set was just unfathomable. I ask: why? Is it really too limiting or unimaginative to play your songs somewhat near the way they were written? I'd hate for the band to develop an early reputation for condescension, but who knows. If you can stomach the twists and turns of a band hell-bent on pleasing themselves, and maybe, just maybe, pleasing you in the process, then the Fiery Furnaces live experience is a helluva great night out.