Despite The Fiery Furnaces' announcement earlier this month that each of their performances in August would function as a pro-health care reform rally, we saw no political signage of any sort when we arrived at Mercy Lounge for their show with White Rabbits. There were no nutjob picketers and no crackpots holding depictions of Obama with a Hitler 'stache. There were no extremists of any sort, or even any reasonable folks engaging in spirited debates over the merits and alleged downsides to Obama's proposed plan. There were only perfectly motionless strangers, a surprisingly large number of whom were bros in carpenter's jeans and baseball caps. In fact, the most movement we saw all evening was from the cigarette girls milling about and roping folks in with the promise of free Camel Crushes.
There were no local openers on Wednesday night's bill; only the two co-headliners, and it became rapidly apparent that the baseball-capped bros of which we previously spoke were there to see post-punk revivalists White Rabbits, not psych-pop brother-sister team Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces. The Furnaces, though touring in support of an album widely reported to be their most accessible to date, still re-arranged and dismantled their songs, mostly removing any semblance of "pop" that they ever possessed. The Friedberger siblings, backed on this stormy evening by only a two-piece rhythm section, toyed with the tempos and arrangements of their songs from I'm Going Away
(their latest) so thoroughly that many were nearly unrecognizable.
We'll admit that the Furnaces were incredibly tight, capable of stopping together on a dime and dropping in and out of grooves with near-savant proficiency. But by the close of their roughly hour-long set, it seemed most attendees were mildly exhausted by the jerkiness of their catalog. Now, we certainly aren't saying we don't enjoy The Fiery Furnaces' capable, smart variety of anti-pop from time to time. But we understand how not everyone can get into it mid-week at 10 p.m. Especially if they aren't even remotely stoned. Oh, and Matthew once mentioned that he'd like to see attendees sign his health care reform petition at the merch booth if they were so inclined, but he didn't launch into a diatribe of any sort.
The ominous storm clouds finally reached critical mass as White Rabbits prepared to launch into their set, filling the sky with contorted bolts of lightning and peals of chest-quaking thunder. We extinguished our collective cigarette and ducked back into the comforting and familiar embrace of the Mercy Lounge amongst the full but shy-of-capacity crowd. We were pleased to find that White Rabbits played a fairly even mix of songs from their terrific debut and not-quite-as-terrific follow-up. While tempos were somewhat rushed, they played well, and their auxiliary percussionist and robust harmonies made for an extremely full-sounding set.
We enjoyed the Rabbits' performance for the most part, but we definitely can't say we were as rapt as the fella next to us in an Ed Hardy shirt. Shortly before their final song, we overheard him telling his orange-skinned date, "It sounds sick when dude breaks it down on those tom-toms!" Indeed, guy. It was sick indeed.