The Fiery Furnaces last came to Ottawa for a performance at the 2006 Bluesfest. It says something for their unpredictable and eclectic sound that, though the set list of their Barrymore’s show overlapped the one of a year ago, the sound and feel of the performance was much different.

The opening act was Thundrah! Recruited in the wake of Chinese Stars tour cancellation, the co-ed quartet creates a danceable, punk-influenced racket. While the rhythm section kept things moving in a reasonably straightforward fashion, guitarist Mackenzie – rocking a nautical motif in captain’s cap and a Bahamas towel draped over his amp – switched between gyrating over his portion of the stage and manipulating the knobs on the various stomp boxes that modulated his voice and guitar into strange and forbidding places. The band has recently been augmented by the addition of Lisa ‘Gambletron’ Gamble, a one-woman electro-rock performer with a fondness for scratchy microphones, sheet-metal percussion, cheesy keyboards and tape manipulation.
The band’s raucous performance earned an enthused response from the early crowd.

The next band on stage was Hot Springs, one of Montreal’s most exciting bands. The group has already wowed unsuspecting crowds several times in shows at smaller venues in town.

Frontwoman Giselle Weber is a spitfire performer whose rambunctious stage style exploits classic rock high kicks and punk rock shenanigans alike. She can craft a neat pop hook, and her band sports a high power rhythm section as well. The final effect lands between Supergrass and Free. (The band furthered their wild reputation by getting “banned for life” from the venue for assorted post-show naughtiness.)

If the Fiery Furnaces had been putting on the same hard-rocking set on display at their earlier appearance at the 2006 Ottawa Bluesfest they would have been overwhelmed. Fortunately, they set the relatively straight-aside style late in 2006 and embraced their former eccentricity by incorporating Latin-style percussion, courtesy of Michael Goodman.

Matthew Friedberger has moved to piano, his sister Eleanor has set aside her guitar to focus on vocals and Jason Lowenstein has moved from bass to guitar (he has an octave pedal for when a song requires low end).

The band’s urge to switch things about has landed them in a good place: The bouncy rhythms work well with the narrative streams of the Furnaces songs, and Eleanor Friedberger was in super vocal form throughout. The band playfully inserted snippets from tunes not in the set in other songs and kept the music flowing on its winding path from beginning to end. The dual percussions allowed the band to experiment with rhythms sometimes propulsive, sometimes herky-jerky. They also debuted some new material (a song about ‘wicker whatnots’) that sounded good.

The Fiery Furnaces have regained their oddball edge, and it’s a good thing for everyone who likes their pop a bit different.

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