The Hidden Cameras teach us all an invaluable lesson

By Nicholas Hudac

Good morning, class. I’m Professor Hudac, filling in for your regularly scheduled teacher. I’m here to correct a few misconceptions regarding proper Monday evening procedure. According to more sensible individuals, Monday nights are times devoted to doing schoolwork, housework, or paying attention to your significant other. They are the nights that can set the tone for the entire week, and are not to be taken lightly for fear of lowering grades or standing in the workplace.

Unfortunately for those of you who value “schoolwork,” “sleep,” or “steady relationships” over the fleeting pleasures of the flesh, a group called the Fiery Furnaces blows the pants off domestic tranquility in all shapes and forms. This New York combo, along with local psychedelic pixies Tallulah and Canadian chamber-pop maestros the Hidden Cameras, invaded the (say it with me now) Empty Bottle this past Monday for an evening of boho boogying involving glockenspiels, fuzzed-out keyboards, and tiny drummers with hats proclaiming “Death Cock”.

The first of the three groups to go on for the evening, Tallulah consisted of three attractive girls in knit caps and sundresses rocking out to the ’60s back-beat of a rather despondent looking keyboardist and drummer. Barring some sound problems that involved a booming bass and non-existent guitar, Tallulah played a tight set of ’60s bubblegum. The members harmonized well, had excellent melodies, and were almost cute enough to send your pancreas into shock. Unfortunately, while they could quite conceivably be mistaken for the entire soundtrack to a sixties mod movie, Tallulah lacked the energy and drive that separates decent live performances from the truly memorable ones. The few songs billed as “our fast ones” showed promising glimpses of the latter, but as a whole, the band failed to capitalize on the musical momentum and coasted through the end of their set.

Next up were the Big Apple’s very own Fiery Furnaces, hyped by music critics as the next great new-rock/garage brother/sister duo (try saying that five times fast). I went into this set with mixed expectations. After all, while their album Gallowsbird’s Bark receives an unqualified recommendation from me, it’s easy to fake it in the studio when nobody’s heckling and you have multiple re-takes.

A good studio album does not necessarily a good live band make. However, my hopes were kindled the second the Furnaces strode onto the stage to set up their equipment. Guitars and keyboards were fuzzed out, phased up, and made to scream for any kind of mercy available—creating the very kind of racket that I have a soft, squishy spot for in the middle of my black little heart.

As the electronics caterwauled, the band strode to their assigned places. Frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger strapped on her Les Paul, while keyboardist and possible brother Matthew plunked himself and a handful of Pabst down. Fleshed out by the addition of an additional keyboard player and a drummer that looked disturbingly like my soc professor, it was finally time for the Fiery Furnaces to show their mettle, so to speak. I pulled on my beer nervously.

Perhaps the best way to describe the Fiery Furnaces’ live performance is a car trip through the great musical trends of the last forty to fifty years. There’s snippets of the Beatles, the great rhythms of Southern bluesmen, Keith Richard’s guitar riffs, Dylanesque non-sequitors, and crazed medieval organ breakdowns. Got that mental picture? Now, imagine this car driven by a blind man chugging absinthe while doing 120 down rural back roads listening to the aforementioned musical influences through an abused tube radio. That’s about as close of a written approximation as you’ll get for a set by the Fiery Furnaces.

Following the Furnace’s jackhammer set, the crowd thinned out. Some headed off into the rain, but a fair chunk of the audience and I wisely stayed to see the brilliant Canadian pop of the Hidden Cameras. Which, might I add, was probably the smartest decision I made that night. Consisting of approximately nine different members playing everything from glockenspiel to electric violin to a cello, The Hidden Cameras write absurdly catchy, genre-defying music with underground sensibilities. Gorgeous melodies and lush strings are driven by a tiny, elfin girl of a drummer sporting a gigantic trucker cap and things are thrown at the audience. People dance, life becomes better.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed the Hidden Cameras. The marriage of an underground sensibility with the lush sound of “Pet Sounds”-influenced pop music is a rare thing indeed, and one that I wish more people had been around to take advantage of. Which, of course, you will the next time a brilliant Monday concert happens, right? Won’t you? Won’t you? That’s more like it. Class dismissed.