Burlington is no stranger to bizarre‚ seemingly dyslexic music. In fact it's something I think we take pride in. Yet‚ no matter how many times you've seen Phish‚ Les Claypool or the Disco Biscuits‚ there is nothing that can prepare you for the tornado-like whirlwind of seeing the experimental psych-pop of Deerhoof‚ whose hyperactive compositions had the entire room entranced in jittery splendor.
I entered the Showcase Lounge at Higher Ground right as Deerhoof took the stage. The first thing I noticed about the San Francisco trio was their itty-bitty front woman Satomi Matsuzaki‚ whose soft coo of a voice can burst into a primal scream at the drop of a dime. The band‚ rounded out by Greg Sauncier on drums and John Dietrich on guitar‚ incorporates a similar bipolar tenacity that is both illuminating and dizzying. Satomi's bop-bop-coo-coo vocals‚ meanwhile‚ are softer and sweeter than a Hostess Sno Ball. Deerhoof‚ much like that pink‚ fluffy convenience store dessert‚ is something of an acquired taste. Their manic blend of sugary pop and angular‚ almost violent‚ sonic excursions can be a bit overwhelming upon first listen. And while skeptics in attendance may be inclined to say any Joe Indie Rock can sing "bunny bunny bunny bunny" over screeching guitars and wailing drums‚ it would be flat-out ignorant to pass Deerhoof off as‚ to quote the brilliant‚ often overlooked philosopher Michael Bolton of Office Space‚ "no-talent ass-clowns." It was clear that every bit of jagged‚ exploding noise was carefully constructed‚ moving like an old wooden rollercoaster-with a slow mounting ascension followed precisely by a jerking turn‚ then another throwing you in the opposite direction before the big plunge. Oh‚ the excitement! Your head spinning‚ your limbs rattling‚ you wonder if the wooden poles holding you up will give out. Deerhoof channeled that chaotic‚ mind-rattling into their insatiable blend of hyper-caffeinated‚ melodious pink noise‚ which had me in an enjoyable seizure-like frenzy for their entire set.
If Deerhoof's set felt like drinking a few bottles of Jolt and chasing them with packets of Fun Dip‚ then the Fiery Furnaces represent what happens when a brother and a sister pool their piggy banks‚ buy a store's worth of Slurpies‚ Red Bull and chewing gum‚ and devote their time to creating complex orchestral narrative pieces of synthetic art rock. I know it sounds a little intense and overwhelming‚ but that's because it is-in every intricate way. This band gives new meaning to grandiose. Hell‚ even Liberace would think they were eccentric. But I swear to you‚ on my record collection‚ that no one in the history of recorded music has ever made blueberries sound so fucking cool.
The Furnaces are known for their intricate narratives‚ including 2004's Blueberry Boat and 2005's Rehearsing My Choir‚ which the brother-sister duo recorded with their Grandmother‚ Olga. Going into the show I knew the audience was in for some shenanigans from the Friedberger siblings‚ as Matthew had posted the following message on the band's website:
Eleanor will be singing‚ I will be playing a keyboard with a wah-wah pedal‚ Jason Loewenstein will be playing a guitar with a wah-wah pedal‚ Bob D'Amico will be playing a drum kit‚ and our new friend (star of the show) Michael Goodman will be playing on percussion items. The songs are all arranged in some sort of Tropical fashion in an effort to argue‚ ineffectually‚ with the falling leaves. All of the Bitter Tea songs (except two) are being played as one long song lasting 30 minutes.
Interesting‚ very interesting. And after taking the stage promptly at 10:10‚ the band broke right into a live rendering of their recent release. You might be thinking that the band played the album in its entirety‚ minus two songs. Think again. This incarnation of the album is like the schizophrenic cousin‚ as Matthew and Eleanor have worked with their touring companions to create an entirely new‚ unique composition out of their own material. Essentially‚ the Furnaces remixed themselves with all of the key components of Bitter Tea still present‚ only re-imagined and rearranged into some sort of jumbled gumbo with woodblocks and maracas and congas thrown in for some Latin spice. At best‚ their hyperactive‚ kaleidoscopic performance felt joyously composed and open to interpretation. At other moments‚ its frenzied pace got out of hand‚ and the loose narrative spiraled uncontrollably somewhere. I'm just not sure exactly where. While the band's performance was exhilarating‚ those unfamiliar with their catalog could have become easily lost in Ritalin-fueled psychedelia (which must have been the case‚ as the crowd noticeably thinned halfway through the Furnaces' set).
I can totally understand why many in attendance may have bounced‚ but those that did truly missed out. After they finished the 30-minute Bitter Tea opus‚ the band played selections from their previous releases. In fact‚ Eleanor‚ who hid from the crowd behind her coifed bangs‚ honored requests for the rest of the show‚ with the exception of "Single Again‚" which stopped abruptly after a few short bars when brother Matthew chimed in and aborted the tune. The crowd was relentless in their pursuit of the perfect request‚ calling for classics like "My Dog Was Lost‚" "Blueberry Boat‚" and "Evergreen‚" which were all played to the delight of the audience‚ especially one reveler who ran to the front row and fist-pumped with the best of them during "Evergreen‚" after Eleanor asked who had requested it.
Behind the Furnaces hung a large banner with a bunch of words that didn't really make sense when read. The banner was full of mismatched fragments of lyrics from dozens of Fiery Furnaces tunes‚ references that only someone who has spent hours listening to-and deciphering-their lyrics would understand. And while many of the subtle nuances of the Fiery Furnaces show probably went over the heads of the average concertgoer‚ everyone that stayed to the end was utterly captivated by the presence of the Friedbergers and their cohorts. There's a reason that these Pitchfork darlings are on every critic's end of the year list‚ and NPR eats up their infectious‚ whacked-out experimental pop. And while it's definitely not for everyone‚ those of us willing to devote the time and effort into understanding the subtle complexities of the story of a girl who lost her locket (the theme of Blueberry Boat)‚ or the nuances of the story of Grandma Olga's life‚ will be thoroughly rewarded with quirky ranting lyrics‚ spiraling synths and joyous Tootsie Pop rock and roll.