Live review: Eleanor Friedberger Band

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Live Review: Eleanor Friedberger Band/ Weird Dreams

[explanatory note: this review was intended for publication elsewhere. It never appeared, but I found it on my hard drive today and whilst it is well after the date, I thought it was decent enough to share]

Eleanor Friedberger Band/ Weird Dreams
London Bethnal Green Working Men's Club 1st December 2011

This is Eleanor Friedberger's first visit to London with her new band. Since the release of her solo album Last Summer whilst on a break from her main band The Fiery Furnaces, her earlier two shows in the city had been solo efforts. Tonight she and her band are in the cosy surroundings of this Working Men's Club in London's East End, a venue which has a touch of faded glamour about it. The stage backdrop is a giant heart-shape lit by coloured lightbulbs, some of which are missing.
Before Eleanor though, we have half an hour set from Weird Dreams, a four piece firmly in the classic indie pop mode, fresh from supporting Stephen Malkmus on some of his recent UK dates. They are quite open about having a David Lynch influence to their music, they even play a song called Weird Dreams which is about Blue Velvet, but the rest of the live set owes more to 60s Northern Soul and 80s bands like Orange Juice and the Smiths. Some songs which stand out are the single 'Holding Nails' which has some bright Marr-esque guitar lines and closing song 'Suburban Coated Creatures'.
On to Eleanor and her Band - this time comprising Matt Asti from MGMT on bass, James Eatherley (ex- Be Your Own Pet on guitar) but not not featuring regular drummer James Canty (the Make-up, Ted Leo's Pharmacists). He is replaced by Ahmed Jalil who I know nothing about, other than he is playing only his third show with Eleanor, although you would never know from the way this band gel tonight.
She opens with 'My Mistakes' - her first single and a giddy reminiscence of her early days in New York - although in contrast to the recorded version which goes straight into the story song, they play a two minute instrumental intro. This song is one of quite a few from the album that gets re-arranged, a habit that the Fiery Furnaces often had, and one which occasionally didn't quite come off. Tonight though, any reversioning works a treat. They slow down current single 'I Won't Fall Apart Tonight' and make 'Glitter Gold Year' sound like the bleak New Year message it was intended to be, whilst 'Early Earthquake' is performed almost solo by Eleanor and is very lovely indeed. 'Roosevelt Island' may not have the big arrangement of the recorded version but it is definitely one of the highlights of the set.
Should anyone think that Last Summer is a one-off, she introduces many new songs tonight, songs with simple titles like 'I don't want to bother you' and 'I'll never be happy again', which on first listen can hold their own with the material on Last Summer. She performs a Dylanesque new song 'Don't let it Worry You' solo whilst the guitarist attends to some re-stringing. Best of all the new ones is 'When I Knew' – which is instantly catchy and a future classic, although the main set closer 'Stare at the Sun' runs it close. She comes back out for the encore without her lime green stratocaster and sings Bob Dylan's 'True love tends to Forget' and leaves us with a fast version of 'One Month Marathon', yet another highlight from Last Summer.
When Eleanor and her brother Matthew decided to do their own projects this year, away from the Fiery Furnaces, some may have assumed that the classically trained musician Matthew may outshine the efforts of his untrained sister. Thankfully her stage presence and knack of writing some incredibly strong tunes have made sure that she can hold her own with anyone. Tonight she reminded us what a great debut Last Summer is, and gave us a glimpse into her bright future by unveiling those new songs.

review by Jonathan Greer
photo by Liz Lawes

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