Beer and Pavement

Eleanor Friedberger at the Luminary

Posted in Life, Live, Travelog by SM on November 1, 2011

Those pants.

I won’t attempt to write a review of this show. Too much weird and surreal happened. So, I’ll attempt to just tell you how it all went down Friday night in St. Louis.

My friend Andrew has a college buddy who’s playing bass for Eleanor Friedberger and so he was on the guest list with a +1 (me). The venue was The Luminary, a convent-turned-art space. The basement is a large, open room with a stage that was both wide and shallow in front of a projection screen. To better illustrate the stage’s layout, the drum kit couldn’t sit behind the rest of the band. Rather, it had to be moved to the side.

As Andrew and I waited to meet up with his friend, Matt, we enjoyed a beer. Said beer was a Zwickel from Urban Chestnut, a newer brewery in St. Louis. I have to say that it was a nice beer. I’m not much of a lager drinker, but this beer is smooth, just sweet enough, and features a decent hoppy bitterness I wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a good beer in a convent-turned-art space, totally unexpected.

Matt introduced us to the rest of the touring band, including Eleanor. No rock star pretensions or snobbery here. Eleanor was a lot of fun to chat with. She and Andrew had several mutual friends and hit it off right away. The entire band was like that, just really friendly and easy-going.

After I let Eleanor try my beer to see if she wanted one of her own, I promptly texted my sister who proceeded to freak out via MMS. She’s a big Fiery Furnaces/Eleanor Friedberg fan and was properly jealous. In fact, I purchased her record based on my sister’s recommendation. My only task as assigned by my little sister was to tell Eleanor that my sister loved her.

In case you weren’t aware, Friday night also happened to be when the seventh game of the World Series was to be played. If you were unaware of this, you also probably didn’t know that St. Louis was hosting said game versus the Texas Rangers. Being the baseball town that St. Louis is, even a joint like the Luminary was showing the game. As you’ll notice below, the game provided some avant-garde, performance art backdrop to the bands playing. We were in no danger of missing game seven despite our indie rock leanings.

Via @EleanorOnly

As a decent local alt.country act played (Pretty Little Empire), Matt asked us if we wanted to hang out in the green room which was actually green. The best part of the room was the high-quality selection of LP’s to keep us busy. Andrew and Matt caught up, I sat and figured this was my chance to relay my sister’s message to Eleanor. She seemed flattered and even offered to add my sister to the guest list for her next show in Ohio. (I watched her enter the name into her phone. So, I assumed she was serious.)

I saw the opportunity to tell Eleanor how much I really like her new record…

[It’s really an oversight on my part that I have yet to write about this record. I purchased Last Summer weeks after its release. So, I didn’t feel the need or opportunity to write-up a proper review. It will surely make my year-end list. I figured I’d say what I was going to say about it at that point. It’s a really great record. Some might even say that it’s more accessible than her Fiery Furnaces material. Either way, this is a fantastic collection of rock songs. The production reminds me a ton of the Destroyer record, but it’s far more tolerable than Dan Bejar’s eighties-inspired Kaputt. Highlights include “My Mistakes”, “Heaven”, and “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” You can get an idea an idea by watching the video for “My Mistakes” here.]

That’s when my filter quit working.

Here’s a tip for any of you if you ever get to meet an artist whom you respect and really enjoy their work: Don’t tell them about why it’s so hard to like their music.

After telling Eleanor how much I liked her new record, I proceeded to tell her that it was more accessible than a lot of the Fiery Furnaces stuff. I expanded this thought by telling her how there’s some stuff FF recorded that I can’t stand, but I loved other material. The part about how much I loved some of the music was lost as everyone in the green room gave me a hard time over this social faux pas. I quickly tried to back out by explaining that I played Last Summer for my wife who promptly told me to shut it off. This didn’t help.

For whatever good karma I earned sharing my beer, relaying my sister’s admiration, and complementing Last Summer, it was all lost as I inadvertently insulted the artist I was excited to see perform that night. Ugh.

That was the moment when a kid working for the venue informed the band that it was time for them to set up. Andrew and I had to leave before I could explain my way out of the mess I had just made. At that moment, I hoped my sister’s invite to attend the show in Cleveland was still on. Either way, I had to pull my foot from my mouth so that we could return to the basement for the show.

A decent crowd showed despite the fact that the World Series game was going on at the same time. If I remember correctly, the Cards were up 6-2 at this point and were looking good going into the final few innings. Regardless, we would watch the end as Eleanor and her band mates played.

Like I said, I’m not writing a review, but this is basically what happened for the next hour or so…

The band opened with “My Mistakes” which is incredibly danceable and catchy. A new song was introduced and the night was off without a hitch. Backing Eleanor was a professionally smooth trio on bass, drums, and guitar. Matt played bass next to a drummer in hoody and jacket. I have never seen a drummer stay relatively perspiration-free while wearing so many layers, plus a full head of hair and beard. Still, he could hit some skins. That solid rhythm section was fronted by Eleanor and this kid from Tennessee (whose name I’ve forgotten) on guitars. This “kid” (he’s 21), told me later that he’s normally a drummer, but I would swear that guitar is his first instrument. He played effortlessly, even some of the more difficult parts appeared easy in his capable hands.

Eleanor was in synch with her band, holding the crowd’s attention with every word. She has a presence on stage for sure, something that would have been hard to imagine after hanging out with her prior to the performance, finding her relatively unassuming. Because I’m a lazy blogger, I’d compare her look and presence like that of Patti Smith, but it was even more like a Stephen Malkmus, sans the bratty attitude. She was easily the coolest person in the room. Even her attire suggested she was better than the rest of us despite her approachable demeanor. (I think Andrew said something like “Those pants!”)

Throughout, Eleanor and the band had fun and it encouraged those in the audience to do the same. They checked in on the band between songs. Sometimes they became transfixed with the commercials. At one point, Eleanor decided to sing to the screen only to find an American Idol commercial was playing. She nearly lost it mid-song.

Adding to the fun was the fact that 3-4 new songs were thrown in and none disappointed. If anything, these new songs added to what is potentially great oeuvre. Of course, the songs from Last Summer translated well live. A live show featuring newer material can make or break an album’s staying power for me. Friday night’s show assured me that Last Summer is good art and even better pop. Of course, good songwriting, charisma, and solid musicianship has that effect.

The set progressed as did the baseball game in the background. Eleanor announced the last song during the ninth inning. It was a perfectly timed selection “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” Watch…

Yep. That’s how it went down. The band did come back to play [enter song here that escapes my memory] in a rather Ramones-like way – you know, punk rock oldies. The song finished what was a pretty fantastic night of music and baseball.

We said our goodbyes to the band. I sheepishly went over to the merch table to say goodbye to Eleanor. She assured me that my sister would be on the list in Cleveland, demonstrating that she wasn’t sore about my unintentional insults. It was cool for her to offer in the first place, but even cooler to ignore my rudeness and assure me that my sister was still on the list. Nice girl, that Eleanor Friedberger.

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2 Responses

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  1. Bill said, on November 2, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Guess you’ll have to learn from your mistakes, learn from your mistakes…


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