REVIEW: Fiery Furnaces + Torgas Valley Reds, Belfast Auntie Annies 19th February 2004

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REVIEW: Fiery Furnaces + Torgas Valley Reds, Belfast Auntie Annies 19th February 2004

With one truly awesome show already in 2004, TVR are again on great form tonight. For those of you who don't know or realise, this three-piece used to be known as Backwater and they released an album on Che Records in 1996. They were good then but they're even better now. There are no Backwater songs of course as TVR have been writing material at an alarming rate, and even for someone like myself who goes to most of their gigs, there are usually a couple of fresh additions to the setlist at every show. Sure enough, two new songs appear tonight - uptempo poppier pieces that hint that the Fugazi/ Wire influences that dominated the very first TVR material is taking a backseat to more straightforward noisy pop. Best of all though, TVR over the last few months have started to grow out of their obvious influences and begin to sound like themselves. The debut single, the first release on the new Howl label, should do a lot to convince people how good they've become.
On any ordinary night, TVR would have stolen the show, but the Fiery Furnaces are my new favourite band AND they play one of the best gigs I've seen in months, so.....
Actually, I'm a little thrown at the start of their set when I struggle to recognise the first few songs. I assume that this is an introduction to the forthcoming album 'Blueberry Boat' but then some of the lyrics start to sound familiar and I realise that the Furnaces have a less strict approach to arrangements compared to some other bands. I particularly like the slightly puzzled expressions of Eleanor's brother Matt as they tinker around with the arrangements as they go. A lot of people are here because of the White Stripes comparison (the main two FFs really are brother and sister, both bands have an eccentric approach to the blues and traditional songs in general, but ultimately neither band sounds alike).
Fiery Furnaces are a lot closer to Captain Beefheart and the Fall than I had previously realised, and Eleanor, the main vocalist, manages to look like Patti Smith and Karen Carpenter at the same time!
The first three or four songs use keyboards an awful lot and it isn't until they switch to more guitar based songs that the crowd really respond. It all works though, and they run through most of their classic debut album 'Gallowsbird's Bark', giving the songs a freshen up along the way. Single 'Tropical Iceland' sounds very different to the recorded version, and you get the feeling that no two Fiery Furnaces shows will be the same, especially as they sometimes play as a two-piece, instead of this busy, playful five piece line-up we saw tonight. It was a slight disappointment that they didn't play their great cover version of 'Winter' by the Fall, but you can't have everything. Overall, it was the best gig I've been to since I moved back to Belfast eighteen months ago so I'm not complaining.

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