“It’s been a bad couple of days. This song will help, I hope.”
That’s how Eleanor Friedberger introduced a muscled-up version of the track “Make Me a Song” halfway through her set on Friday night at the Empty Bottle. The same sentiment can be said of every song she played; whether a new track from her most recent album Rebound (out now on Frenchkiss) or something pulled off the bench from her excellent discography (both solo and with her former band The Fiery Furnaces), Eleanor Friedberger fashioned a fantastic set of music that was a balm for these troubling times.
WLUW DJ Phil Cerza was able to chat with Eleanor briefly before the music got underway on Friday. The two discussed the importance of Chicago & the Bottle to her as a touring stop, transitioning the synth-pop sound of Rebound to the stage, and what’s next for her & her band.
You grew up in Oak Park. Does playing a show like tonight in Chicago after touring behind a record all Summer feel like a sort of a homecoming?
Yeah, we literally just came from my childhood home and had dinner with my parents. (Laughs) I guess in that way, yes. My parents will be here tonight. I actually got a few messages from high school friends like, “We’re all out of town!” You know, I’ve played here so many times…it feels very familiar but there’s not like this “Oh, I’m with my people” feeling like that…
Does the Bottle have a lot of significance to you as a venue?
Sure, I feel like I’ve played here more times than any other – definitely more than any place in Chicago, and maybe as many times as any place in New York. I played at the Hideout in November, I played at Lincoln Hall in May when the record came out, so this’ll be my third time in Chicago less than a year.
On Rebound you’re using more electronic & pop soundscapes than you have on your other solo records; drum machines, programmed beats, Casio keyboards. How has that sound translated to the live show? Has it been a challenge?
Not at all! (Laughs) We’re playing guitar, bass and drums. For me, that just is the most versatile way to play. Eventhough I made this album, it’s just funny, I don’t feel like we’re missing any sound, you know? I’m not missing that stuff.
Have you revised any Fiery Furnaces songs for this tour? It seems a song like “Benton Harbor Blues” might lend itself well to this setting.
(Laughs) Yeah, no, it’s always tricky. This is my fourth solo album. I have too many songs to choose from just from my own stuff. Imagine, incorporating Fiery Furnaces stuff would be so difficult. But actually, a few weeks ago it was the anniversary of our first album coming out, so we played a song called “Tropical Ice-Land” that night. I played a bit of “My Egyptian Grammar” last night because someone asked me to. We’ve played “Blueberry Boat” a few times, you know, just for fun.
Rebound is one of our favorite records of the year at WLUW. We played it all Summer and we’re still getting lots of play out of it into the Fall. What have you been listening to on the road? Any new releases you wanna hype?
The new – well, it hasn’t come out yet…My friend Chris Cohen, he just finished his album. It’s coming out in April, but he sent it to me. I was like “I need something to listen to on the long drive!” So I was listening to that a bunch. And we were just listening to the brand new Deerhoof song tonight on our way over here.
What inspired you to create the handwritten lyric sheets you’re selling at your merch table? They’re so cool & really beautiful.
Thank you. For one, it’s such a good way to occupy my time. Like, sitting in the van I’ve just been doodling and coloring and stuff. You always collect these free newspapers in little towns & motels, so I was collecting these papers and clipping them. I also had this big bill I had to pay for my van that we ended up leaving in California because it broke down, so I was trying to think of ways to make a little extra money at the merch table.
After this weekend you’re headed to the UK & Europe for a couple dates. The songs on Rebound were inspired by time you spent living in Greece. Are you planning on revisiting Greece on this trip?
Yeah, in fact the last show I’m doing is in Athens at this cultural foundation, and I’m gonna play with a band that I was playing with when I went over there to start writing. We’re gonna have a string quartet and we’re gonna play the album in its entirety. Hopefully we’ll officially announce that show over the next week.
Will this be the first time you’ve been there since you finished & released the record?
Yes, so that will be really special.
Just a few hours later Eleanor took the stage at the Bottle, and it felt equally special. Joined by guitarist Ryan Dugre, bassist Ian Romer, and drummer Noah Hecht, Eleanor – as advertised in our interview – did not pull any punches with her arrangements on these songs. On Rebound tracks like “In Between Stars” and “Make Me A Song” are shimmering synth-pop jams, but in this full-band setting the songs took on new life as thrillingly amped-up krautrock guitar workouts in the vein of Can or Television.
They were joined on “My Mistakes” and the show closing “Roosevelt Island” by saxophonist Ben Jaffe of NYC band Pill, who opened the show with their stunning Sun Ra by-way-of Sonic Youth no-wave attack. Jaffe proved to be an adept player in multiple genres, his gorgeous trills in concert with Dugre’s leads adding both a pastoral loveliness and a sense of triumph to Eleanor’s songs.
In all, the whole evening felt very triumphant. If Eleanor doesn’t play Chicago for a while, this set was a fantastic send-off.
SETLIST: My Jesus Phase/ The Letter, Everything, When I Knew, Does Turquoise Work?, Blueberry Boat, Inn of The Seventh Ray, In Between Stars, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Open Season/ Sweetest Girl, Make Me A Song, My Mistakes (w/ Ben Jaffe), Are We Good?, It’s Hard, Stare At The Sun, Roosevelt Island (w/ Ben Jaffe)