Eight years ago Eleanor Friedberger played to a raucous sold out crowd at the Bug Jar with her previous band, The Fiery Furnaces. A lot has changed in eight years. The Fiery Furnaces have taken an extended and possibly permanent break. Friedberger has released three increasingly excellent solo albums in that time. Her post-Furnaces sound has developed over the three albums, emerging in the latest, New View, out earlier this year, as her most accessible and personal yet. But for any number of reasons, the crowd from eight years prior didn’t return. Friedberger and her backing band, Ice Water, who also played a short opening set, performed to a paltry couple dozen souls who saw fit to venture out on a Sunday night in Rochester.
Midway through the set Friedberger slipped up on the lyrics to “My Mistakes,” (apropos!) one of two songs she played off of her first solo album, Last Summer. After finishing the song, she admitted she lost her train of thought as she had been thinking about advice she had been given about how to play in front of 1000 people or in front of 10. She assured her audience, “If anyone is concerned, don’t be, I feel the exact opposite. Happy to be here.” Perhaps she was just excited to play under the Bug Jar’s whacky ceiling. Earlier she proclaimed it to be the “best ceiling in the world… except maybe that other famous one.”
Her band, drummer Neil Hecht, guitarist Malcolm Perkins, bassist Jonathan Rosen, and his brother Michael Rosen on Wurlitzer piano and keyboards, were also the backing band for the album. They laid down tight slinky grooves with just the right touches and punch to bring Friedberger’s songs to life on stage. Often times the opening band sounds great until the headliner comes along and sounds even better. Such was the case on this night, except the opening band consisted of the same musicians as the headliner, more or less. Ice Water’s qualities were enhanced, refined and magnified under the scope of Friedberger.
They ran through the entire new album in order, with just a few diversions sprinkled in from her previous two albums. The style in the older songs, with a more conversational cadence, stood in contrast to the newer material, which reached stronger melodic hooks.
The set finished strong with the psychedelic “All Known Things” and proggish “Does Turquoise Work?” with an extended mid-section build. That left only one New View song unplayed. For the encore performance of “A Long Walk” Friedberger played solo on the stage alone, before the full band walked back up and kicked into full gear for a strong and jarring instrumental finish. They closed the night with the lone representative from 2013’s Personal Record, the fun and upbeat “Stare at the Sun,” with it’s appropriate lyric, “If that was good-bye then I must be high, you know I’ll be seeing you soon.” Those who elected to stay home missed a treat, one that might come around only every eight years or so, lyrics aside.
Setlist: He Didn’t Mention His Mother, Open Season > Sweetest Girl, Roosevelt Island, Your Word, Because I Asked You, Never Is a Long Time, My Mistakes, Cathy With the Curly Hair > Two Versions of Tomorrow, All Known Things, Does Turquoise Work? Encore: A Long Walk, Stare at the Sun