Concert review: Fiery Furnaces and White Rabbits rock Orlando (rant against The Social's Man in Charge + video included)

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes, even if you’ve been given the green light to cover a show from the label or the club or even the artists themselves, things get lost in translation or lost in disorganization or just plain screwed up. This time, although I was, indeed, on the list, there was no indication I was approved for photo access.

Photographer Phil had all his gear and we’d driven all the way from Tampa, so I wasn’t about to accept a simple "No." I swallowed my pride, went into the club, and tracked down Matt Friedberger, the brother half of the Fiery Furnaces and the person I'd interviewed for my story in this past week's paper, who was working the merch table and was more than happy to give me permission to take flash-free pictures throughout the show. I thanked him and went back out to talk to the Man in Charge.

I could tell MiC wasn't going to take me seriously from the moment he turned away from the casual conversation he was having to give me a patronizing, "Yes?" I would have understood apathy and doubt -- he didn't know me from Sam, and how was he supposed to know that I'd really gotten the go-ahead to take photos from Matt Friedberger himself? But MiC was unnecessarily terse and rude, making no attempt to hide his aggravation as he explained that I needed to go fetch Matt and physically bring him outside so MiC could confirm with Matt that I was allowed to take photos.

[image-1]Did I mention I stubbed and fractured my right pinky toe the day before this concert jaunt, and I was standing there leaning on a cane, wearing flip flops 'cause I couldn't fit my home hospital-style, partially bandaged toe into a shoe? "Would you mind accompanying me back into the club?" I asked, pointedly looking down at my busted ass toe, in case he really didn't see the ugly purple bruise blooming out from underneath the bandage. Plus, Matt was busy manning the merch table, so I knew it wouldn't be convenient for him to come outside, and since MiC was doing little a whole lot of nothing -- hanging out schmoozing with employees and the random folks who lingered outside for a smoke instead of catching the first part of the White Rabbits set that had started inside -- I didn't think I was making an unreasonable request. (White Rabbits pictured above right)

I was wrong.

“Actually, yes, I would mind," MiC replied scornfully and told me, among some other not so nice things, that it wasn't his job to hand-hold everyone on the guest list. What the fuck is your job, then, and where did you get your utter disregard for the simple common courtesies of human interaction? But rather than lose my cool, I threw a "Gotcha" over my shoulder as I hobbled back inside to outline this latest kink in the situation to Matt, who agreed to come out and talk to MiC after he found someone to cover merch for him. And he did. Hence, the fabulous array of photos you see here. (Props to Matt for handling the situation so graciously!)

[image-2]A word to The Social: If this is the MiC who regularly deals with the public and press, you definitely have the wrong man on the job -- I've never dealt with anyone so willfully unprofessional and it only makes me more reluctant to continue covering shows that stop at The Social, since MiC also happened to mention his club didn't need support from the media, because it had been there for 25 years.

Luckily, my dealings with MiC didn’t detract from the fact that the show itself was an A+ great time.

I missed the first several songs of the White Rabbits due to the aforementioned ordeal, but was able to catch the last 40 minutes of their tight, rocking set. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Missouri six-piece's big brand of '60s pop-infused indie rock in a live setting quite well, marked by pounding keys, heavy and distinctive percussive elements (various members took turns pounding on timpanis), and grandiose vocals. While they played a good portion of songs off the new record, It’s Frightening -- the dark and driving “They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong,” the stompin’ “Midnight and I,” “Company I Keep” and the album’s first single, “Percussion Gun” (which closed the set), White Rabbits also played several cuts off their 2007 debut, Fort Nightly -- “Kid on My Shoulders,” “The Plot,” “Dinner Party,” and my favorite, the tight and lively “Let’s Go Dancing.”

The Fiery Furnaces were truly spectacular (Eleannor and Matt pictured above left). Matt removed his piano from the equation all together and played lead guitar this tour, and he was busting out licks like some sort of axe-wielding rock star. Singer-sister Eleanor Friedberger was a lanky bundle of quietly-contained energy clad in a faded black full-body jumpsuit (her Pete Townsend ensemble) and battered suede ankle boots. Her shaggy brown hair hung in her face most of the night and though she never made any real eye contact with the audience, she had the sort of stage presence that demands notice and compels you to keep your eyes glued.

[image-3]Eleanor's voice was just as rich and authoritative in a live setting as on disc, the sound in the room perfect enough that her way of delivering lyrics in forceful streams of jumbled wordage worked, and you could actually hear and comprehend what she was saying. And big ups to the other players, too -- Sebadoh bassist Jason Loewenstein was embroiled in some pretty hot jams with Matt and drummer Robert D'Amico, who was busting out the jazz-complicated, prog-tastic and post-punk rock beats like he was some sort of human drum machine capable of any time signature and any mood. That dude had chops.

The '70s retro moments were intact but the music had a much more aggressive and progressive feel in a live setting, with funky wah-wah guitar and intense build-ups of climactic sound. None of the songs were played exactly as they were recorded and in some cases, had been de-constructed and re-constructed into something completely different. "I'm Going Away" took on a groove, the already complementary “Charmaine Champagne” and “Cups and Punches” were mashed together into one be-boppin' number, and the already dark and slinky "Staring at the Steeple" got a creepy punch and at one point, dissolved into a hardcore prog-jazz jam with heavy distorted guitar and fuzzed-out bass. The Furnaces played a chunk of songs from their lastest album, I'm Going Away, but also cherry-picked numbers from Gallowsbird Park (2003), Blueberry Boat (2004), EP (2005) and Widow City (2007) and kept it lively from start to finish.

For the encore, Eleanor and Matt returned to the stage solo and performed a few numbers, just the two of them, with Eleanor singing and Matt playing guitar on the first, then Eleanor taking up drums and supporting Matt while he played and sang on the second. Then the rest of the band joined them onstage for the finale.

Here's a rough sketch of the setlist from the show:

Charmaine Champagne/Cups and Punches mash-up, Staring at the Steeple, Cut the Cake, Ray Bouvier, Chris Michaels, The End Is Near, Duplexes of the Dead, Ex-Guru, Keep Me in the Dark, I'm Going Away, Drive to Dallas, Japanese Slippers, Worry Worry, Here Comes the Summer

Encore: Rub Alcohol Blues, Sing for Me, My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found



Videos taken courtesy of MattZ. Thanks, Matt!

White Rabbits, "While We Go Dancing"

White Rabbits, "Kid on My Shoulders"

And a one-minute clip of Fiery Furnaces doing "Charmaine Campagne/Cups and Punches"

Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces; all photos by Phil Bardi.

To satisfy the ravenous music-consuming beast inside me, I end up making the 90-minute trek to Orlando rather frequently. Far too many bands don’t or won’t stop in Tampa for whatever reason and some of these bands I simply have to see.

Yes, the Fiery Furnaces were headlining a show in Tampa on Saturday night. But they were also playing The Social in Orlando the Sunday after (August 23), and that particular bill featured the White Rabbits. I'm a big fan of both, so it seemed like a no brainer to set up review coverage for the O-town show. I made all the proper press arrangements with Thrill Jockey (the indie label that reps FF), jumped in a car with some like-minded friends, and set out to enjoy a night of great music and fun times.

Only, the night didn’t start out so fun. In fact, I had to deal with some authentic, grade-A machismo bullshit that has turned this concert review into a partial rant against the "Man In Charge" at The Social.

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