RIFFS AND VARIATIONS
(Alternate Takes, Live Versions, and Early Mixes)
The Fiery Furnaces - “Chris Michaels / Wolf Notes / Quay Cur (Live)”
If you never got the chance to see the Fiery Furnaces play live before they went on indefinite hiatus in 2011, I genuinely pity you. Like really, man, I’m so sorry for you. One of the more fortuitous moments in my life as a music fan was catching a set of theirs at a festival on a whim. And it’s not just that they were a great band, it’s that they were an especially great live band. Honestly I’ve never seen another group do what the Fiery Furnaces did on stage. Ever.
If there’s once consistent element to the Fiery Furnaces’ music, it’s a sense of unrelenting restlessness. They often seem like they’re coming up with new ideas at such a furious clip that they can barely get one onto a record before they’re compelled to move on. Just one of their tracks contains more ideas and detours than most albums. Some people, of course, find this infuriating, but others (like me) think it’s just brilliant.
They approach their live shows in much the same way. While most bands strive to reproduce their studio work with the highest degree of fidelity possible, the Fiery Furnaces can’t help but pull their back catalog apart and assemble it into something new. Just look at the track at the top of this post. It comes from their 2004 tour, just after the release of their masterpiece Blueberry Boat. Here they take apart three different tracks from that album, and combine them into a single Frankenstein’s monster of a track. It opens with a surprisingly punk rock take on “Chris Michaels” before it turns on a dime into meandering, keyboard-heavy version of “Wolf Notes” and finally morphing into the last third of “Quay Cur.”
That should give you a pretty clear idea of what they’re doing, but this is really one of the set’s more straightforward songs. I chose it because it was the most complex one that was small enough to upload to Tumblr. If I wasn’t burdened by this website’s Draconian .mp3 size limits, I would have probably chosen the set’s opener “Wolf Notes / Leaky Crystal / Worry Worry / Blueberry Boat / Worry Worry / Smelling Cigarettes / My Dog Was Lost” or maybe “South Is Only A Home / Blueberry Boat / Bow Wow / Birdie Brain / Inca Rag” instead.
Going back to what I said earlier, have you ever heard any musician do anything like this? The ones that come closest are bands that love to ~~~jam~~~~ live, like Phish or Widespread Panic or Animal Collective. But, those band’s sets also frequently have a sense of aimless wandering, while the Fiery Furnaces’ shows are clearly very strictly planned and practiced. There’s no languid digression here, just a precise dismantling and rearranging of the familiar, a wholly unique approach that we may never get to see again.
Basically, what I’m saying is get your hands on every Fiery Furnaces bootleg you can find, and start lighting candles at the alter of the patron saint of band reunions. Please. The world is worse off without their live shows.