Friday, June 07, 2013

Don't Miss Out: Eleanor Friedberger

I always wondered which sibling was the weird one, Eleanor or Matthew Friedberger. During the Fiery Furnaces days, I always figured it was Eleanor. She had that voice. Nobody sounds like Eleanor Friedberger. And I don't mean just other female vocalists, I mean nobody, period. I loved the Fiery Furnaces for that. That androgynous delivery of hers complimented their kooky experimental pop like Captain Beefheart is complimented by his Magic Band. So she had to be the weird one, right?

Now that I've heard a couple solo records from both siblings, it appears that Eleanor has pulled a fast one on me. I wouldn't be surprised to hear her solo stuff playing in a Starbucks. It's starkly different that her work in The Fiery Furnaces, unquestionably more accessible and pop-oriented. I'm surprised, but thrilled. These are her Leslie Feist days, and I think it's the best thing that could have happened to her.

She still has her unique voice, but her new material lets her focus on songwriting as a craft, rather than attempting musical expression as an abstract art. Her 2013, Personal Record, is loaded with delightfully clever wordplay, so much that she even found herself tongue-tied at her in-store appearance at Reckless this afternoon. She only played about seven songs, but she stammered to a halt in half of them, forgetting the order and rhyme of her own lyrics. With a red-faced Bob Dylan on the shelf behind her, matching her outfit perfectly, he looked like he was thinking, "come on, Eleanor, you can do it." Her lyrics are the sort you want to steal for a facebook status update, but you never do out of respect for her. One of my favorite lines from the new album is, "You've given me everything I ever wanted. I want to be scared, and I want to be haunted." I literally stood up and cheered when I heard that.

And this is why I opted for the acoustic set this afternoon instead of the full band show tonight at the Empty Bottle. I would definitely encourage anyone to go to the show of course, but Eleanor Friedberger is a songwriter now, not an art-rock star. Her stripped down songs easily engage a crowd with just her voice and her guitar. But I'm sure it's breathtaking to hear what she can build around her songs when she has a capable band behind her. Catch her while she's still playing the Empty Bottle, because it could only be a matter of time before she's headlining Ravinia.

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