THE FIERY FURNACES / TALK IN CODE, 20TH SEPTEMBER 2009, OXFORD ZODIAC
Forgive me, for I am about to shoot some large and helpless fish in a very small barrel. With a bazooka.
"The world of Talk In Code", their MySpace blurb advises us, "is a world to be involved in". A sentiment I can heartily endorse - if, that is, you like your worlds soundtracked by plodding faux-profound corporate indie anthemicists from Swindon who set their sights on REM and late period Idlewild but end up coming across like the sort of tedious worship band that would have the Big Fella Upstairs, if he existed, cursing his own creation.
The spectacle of them crashing headlong into a wall of silence but remaining optimistically convinced that we're here to see them and not the headliners is even more excruciating than that fist-gnawingly awful bio (another choice line: "They are a band in demand and a band on the rise!" There's a free CD available, apparently - still a bit too pricey for me.
The kindest thing I can say is that they'd probably be lapped up by a different audience - a VERY different audience - and you have to point the finger at whoever chucked together such a horribly mismatched bill (even if it was done so at short notice) and threw Talk In Code to the lions rather than to people who think Keane are an edgy alternative rock outfit.
"I don't think we've ever played with a band whose name is in the lyrics to one of our songs", says Eleanor Friedberger, who it suddenly occurs to me bears a remarkable resemblance to our neighbour. The song in question - a blitzed rendition of 'Chris Michaels' from Blueberry Boat - couldn't be a sharper counterpoint to what has preceded and, even at around seven minutes long, is as succinct a precis as you'll get as to what The Fiery Furnaces are all about: oblique and frequently bizarre sung-spoken lyrics wound up with fragments of melody into a monument to idiosyncratic imagination that is all tangent, flitting ADHD-like between genres and styles while also laughing long and loud in the face of coherence and consistency of tempo.
That's not quite true, though - the indications from last album Widow City and the new material from I'm Going Away (in comparison with 'Chris Michaels', at least) are that they might perhaps be gravitating a little closer towards the straight and the narrow. But everything's relative, of course - 'Keep Me In The Dark', for instance, has a genuine chorus, but it still sounds like an experimental band doing the truly experimental thing and having a stab at a pop song.
Not that they haven't attempted something similar before, but none of their most accessible pre-I'm Going Away tracks are included in the setlist - there's no 'Tropical Ice-Land', 'Single Again' or 'My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found', and Widow City is represented by 'Duplexes Of The Dead', 'The Old Hag Is Sleeping', 'Ex-Guru' and 'Japanese Slippers' rather than 'My Egyptian Grammar'. This may largely be because, unlike on the two previous occasions I've seen them, Matthew Friedberger eschews the keyboard in favour of a guitar, with the result that the likes of 'Staring At The Steeple' pack a surprising punch to the ears.
Integral to this new full-on rock incarnation is the inventive drumming of the guppy-mouthed Bob D'Amico and the distorted bass of a cheery Jason Loewenstein, best known for his alliance with Lou Barlow in Sebadoh (is my Dinosaur Jr T-shirt an insensitive choice, I wonder, given that it's their reformation that's standing in the way of a possible Sebadoh reunion?).
Eleanor is as intense as usual, unable to decide whether to have her coat on or off and staring into the distance as if in a trance - but then just to remember all those hundreds of words must demand serious focus and concentration. Matthew, meanwhile, is enjoying himself, sharing jokes with the others and sarcastically telling some chatterers that they like the interruption because "it's like extra lyrics - and they're probably better than ours".
It seems somehow wrong that an evening in the company of such a resolutely non-linear band should have to reach a definite conclusion, but Matthew softens the blow: "Hopefully we'll be back again soon", he says, grinning, "probably playing different instruments". We hope so too - theirs truly is "a world to be involved in".