My latest gig was the quirky American singer Eleanor Friedberger, who was playing upstairs in the Arts Club Loft as part of her UK tour in support of her third solo album New View, released earlier this year.
It was the first time I had seen her as a solo artist, having been to see her old band The Fiery Furnaces six times across just ten months in 2003/04 in various small to medium-size venues in London.
(Obviously!) I really love the Furnaces, and have also very much enjoyed all three of her solo albums, with second LP Personal Record from 2013 being perhaps my favourite, though they’re all of pretty equal quality.
I headed straight to the venue, discovering there were still ten minutes until the first band were due on stage, so I made a rapid about-turn, going to The Monro for a quick-fire pint of Marston’s EPA.
While in there, I was reminded of my most recent gig (Micky Dolenz at The Cavern Live Lounge, as reviewed here) as the PA played The Monkees’ immortal Daydream Believer, followed by Peter Gabriel’s rather excellent Solsbury Hill.
I got back to the Arts Club just in time for the first band, local act Lunar Runway, whose debut ep is due in November. They are fronted by Tom Hughes who sings (quite reminiscently of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner) and plays rhythm guitar, and looks like he has a very high opinion of himself.
There was a stand-in bassist (not sure why) who looked a bit like Blur’s Alex James crossed with a young Edwyn Collins, who was perhaps oddly the finest musician amongst them. The rest of the band was lead guitarist Callum Flynn and Dean Neill on drums.
The second song, Free, featured some great “oh ohs”, reminding me of something trad indie like Circa Waves meets Franz Ferdinand. This was followed by Nice To Meet You, a version of which is below (as none of their music is yet on Spotify):
They seemed to have brought a fair few of their own fans with them, with their set going down well with the sadly rather thin crowd. Their final number, possibly called Journey, was a bit of an epic, and not really for me.
Next up were The Buffalo Riot, an interesting-looking country-tinged rock band. Ben Singleton and Iain Morley are joint frontmen, with one of them reminding me of my friend Kahnee, and the other John Hartson – as he is now, not back in his footballing prime. Meanwhile, bassist Mike Prosser reminded me of a hobo-esque Mike Mills from R.E.M.
During second number Something To Believe In, one of the guitarists tried and failed to replace a broken string, with the troublesome acoustic eventually being taken away and returned a few songs later, back to the full complement of six.
Some of the songs were just a bit too straight-ahead rock for me, but they’ve clearly got a lot of talent, and I’d be happy to catch them again some time.
I checked out the merch stand before the main act, noting somewhat sadly/sweetly that Eleanor herself was behind the counter! As well as the normal t-shirts and CDs, there were these unusual items for sale:
The venue was still shockingly un-full – in fact, I’d thought until arrival that the show was taking place in the main Arts Club room, which would clearly have been ridiculous. There’s some fairly scathing comments about the venue in the Getintothis review of this show here, whose points I shan’t repeat, but that possibly helps explain the sparse crowd.
However, perhaps I consider Eleanor to be much more popular than she is. After all, the biggest venue I ever saw the Furnaces in was the c.1,000-capacity Scala in Kings Cross. Amongst the crowd tonight was RongoRongo’s lead singer Mick Chrysalid.
For this tour, Eleanor was being backed by just two musicians- the Steve Albini-esque Clemens Knieper on guitar and bass (who produced this year’s latest album New View), and drummer Noah Hecht from Icewater who reminded me of The Parrots’ Diego Garcia.
The set opened with He Didn’t Mention His Mother from the new album, in a version that was perhaps a little too sparse due to the small band size, which led me to fear (wrongly) that the gig might be hampered by not having the full group. Fortunately, I soon got used to the trio format, greatly helped by the second number being the fabulous When I Knew from 2013’s second solo LP Personal Record.
By the fourth track she’d already revisited all three of her solo albums, playing Early Earthquake off 2011’s debut Last Summer. Things then took a surprising but very welcome turn as she reached back to The Fiery Furnaces, recalling her first visit to the city in October 2003 when they supported “a really shitty band called Hot Hot Heat”, with the young Franz Ferdinand also on the bill!
In fact, she played both sides of the Evergreen/Single Again single from 2004 in the space of three songs – a real treat. The Furnaces were revisited once more when All Known Things off the new album segued straight into their Benton Harbor Blues from 2006’s Bitter Tea.
The highlight from her solo material was probably the spellbinding Stare At The Sun from Personal Record, featuring a lovely little guitar solo by Knieper, that closed the main set, although the band didn’t actually leave the stage before the encore.
Unusually but pleasingly, things continued with a cover of a contemporary song, Cate Le Bon’s Love Is Not Love from this year’s Crab Day album. That was followed by Sweetest Girl from the new record before one final, slow burning Fiery Furnaces track, I’m Gonna Run from their debut album Gallowsbird’s Bark.
There was to be no second ‘encore’, with the house DJ immediately spinning some classic Echo & The Bunnymen as I headed down the stairs and out of the venue.
So ended a good night’s entertainment. It was great to see Eleanor in action again after so many years, while the other two bands on the bill were engaging enough. The venue certainly has its faults (with the beer choice notable amongst those), but I will be back there (at least) twice more this year, though both times in the main downstairs area, I believe.
I sported my red Guided By Voices tee, to tie in with the quirky indie vibe of the night, while I also spotted Johnny Cash, The Replacements and (more surprisingly) Slipknot t-shirts amongst the audience.
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Here is some of the music from the night on Spotify, including some between-band tunes: