I have seen the next Patti Smith and her name is Eleanor Friedberger.
A native of Chicago suburb Oak Park and half of the brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger’s 2011 solo debut, Last Summer, was for many a revelation. While maintaining the skewed perspective and original lyrical approach of the duo’s work, her solo record was more of a rock record, and by far more straightforward (not to say more accessible).
When combined with her brother Matthew as The Fiery Furnaces, the impulse seems to be willfully obscure and difficult with electronic instrumentation and accompaniment. As a duo, their music is far from linear. But as a solo artist, her music is a little easier to swallow. Not only that, Eleanor Friedberger successfully mines classic rock tropes and exudes so much cool and uninhibited energy in such a way that she has finally provided a 21st century version of Patti Smith’s Bohemian/punk approach and energy. Smith was a transplant to NYC after growing up in New Jersey, although she was born in Chicago; both Friedberger siblings have called Brooklyn home since 2000.
Given that Friedberger has only one solo record to her credit, it was no surprise that she reprised eight out of 10 of those tracks on this Tuesday night at a packed Schubas in Chicago’s Lakeview. However her new songs, and a couple of choice covers thrown in as an encore, were beautifully done as well.
Clad in cowboy boots (she once dated Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, and their “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” is believed to be inspired by her), tight jeans and a tasseled ivory blouse, Friedberger and her well-drilled henchmen kicked off the night with “My Mistakes,” the kickoff cut from Last Summer. The sax was missing, but otherwise it was a powerful rendition that accentuated her beautiful alto voice. Next came a new song that she indicated should have introduced the show. “I Don’t Want To Bother You” was titularly reminiscent of George Harrison’s “Don’t Bother Me” but musically sounded more like his “Isn’t It A Pity.”
With her trademark brunette bangs (partially an affectation, perhaps), her appearance and vocal approach not only evoked Smith but a little bit of The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde as well on “Heaven.” She exuded an impressive level of confidence for someone who on paper might seem to be a wallflower balladeer, but anyone who has seen her live or given complete attention to her record knows that kind of perception is well off the mark.
Not that she needed any help, but her well oiled sidemen ably helped her shamble through a number of classic rock tropes across multiple patterns of rhythm throughout the set, but the stutter stop percussion and jazzy accents were especially evident on this one.
Her ensemble slowed down the tempo for the wrenching “I’ll Never Be Happy Again” but picked it up again for her paean to “Roosevelt Island” and she again paid tribute to her adopted stomping grounds with “Scenes From Bensonhurst.”
It’s remarkable that so many of the new songs were also highlights; she’s been playing the as of yet unreleased“Boys” for months now, but it was amazing how familiar it was. With its haunting chorus of “there are other boys too, but don’t let it worry you,” that song alone would be reason enough to pick up her next album. It’s such a classic cut, you would swear it was a cover.
Speaking of covers, for her encore, she played a passionate version of Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Dallas” solo and was rejoined by her band for the closer, a rousing and heartfelt rendition of Bob Dylan’s classic “True Love Tends To Forget.”
While the bitterness was palpable throughout her set, so was Friedberger’s passion and humor, and her next record, and her next show, should not be passed up lightly. If anyone can and should live up to the title of Next Big Thing, like it or not, Eleanor Friedberger could and should be just that person. Rock music owes her a big pile of gratitude for revitalizing what so many have decried as a dying art.
Eleanor Friedberger at Schubas Tavern on May 1, 2012 setlist:
- “My Mistakes”
- “I Don’t Want To Bother You”
- “I’ll Never Be Happy Again”
- “Roosevelt Island”
- “Glitter Gold”
- “Trying Not To Stare At The Sun”
- “Early Earthquakes”
- “Inn of the Seventh Ray”
- “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight”
- “Dallas” (Jimmie Dale Gilmore cover)
- “True Love Tends To Forget” (Bob Dylan cover)