Unless you’re a Stooge or a Stripe, Detroit might not sound like the best place to kick off a transcontinental tour. But with Windy City origins not far from Southeast Michigan, the Fiery Furnaces – bro and sis Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger along with bassist Jason Lowenstein and Bob D’amico on drums – chose St. Andrew’s Hall to begin the first leg of their summer jaunt across North America and Australia. Unfortunately, a few little details of their Detroit appearance didn’t exactly go as planned: The show was moved to the much smaller Shelter downstairs from St. Andrew’s, scheduled opening band Man Man didn’t show and the ensemble balance was, um, a little off. Let’s hope it was just first-night jitters, eh?

The Furnaces’ live show is a throwback to their Gallowsbird’s Bark sound; songs from every album (including a cut from the roundly dismissed Rehearsing My Choir) get the loud, fast tweak-blues treatment. Matthew, with the help of a half-dozen pedals, recreated the melodies that appear as intricate keyboard textures on their albums with searing, straining guitar licks. Interplay between his aggressively cascading fingerwork and Eleanor’s extroverted vocal style appeared to be what the Furnaces were going for, and stripping down the electronic filigree into two full-blast channels of sound should have been a great idea for a live adaptation of their work. Guitar, bass, drums, voice – that’s how you build a proper rock outfit, and the Siblings Friedberger knew this well.

I’m disappointed to report that, whether due to the venue switch, the unforeseen absence of the opening band or just tour-kickoff jitters, Eleanor’s performance was buried under the added volume of her brother’s almost painful six-string onslaught and D’Amico’s and Lowenstein’s respective drums and bass.

While one frequently runs into trouble hearing the first act’s vocals (less time for sound check, crappier equipment, perhaps), there’s no excuse for making Eleanor scream herself hoarse for a 90-minute set with maybe five breaks between loose medleys of different songs. (By the encore, girl was huffing nasal spray after every verse, y’all.) One of the Furnaces’ strongest and most unique assets is Eleanor’s brittle-yet-bottomless alto warbling, and although Matt’s instrumental contribution made it clear that he’s the musical brains in the Friedberger family, Eleanor does more than her share to contribute vocally to their music’s pathos. A sound guy somewhere in Detroit needs to get a stern reprimand, damn it.

Technical glitches aside, the relentless energy of the Furnaces’ show was enough to make up for the extra hour spent running out of beer money and getting sore feet with no opening band to provide a mild distraction. They began their set by banging out a triple-play medley of “Chris Michaels,” “Crystal Clear” and “Straight Street” from their first, second and first albums. Besides truncating most of the longer, more ruminative album tracks to a snappy duration of three minutes or less, Matthew and Eleanor peppered their set list with some of their catchiest (and singable) tunes: EP’s wistful “Evergreen” and nonsensical “Tropical Ice-Land” were pumped-up sing-along opportunities, and it’s just a matter of time before some Clear Channel sleazebag makes “Police Sweater Blood Vow” (one of Bitter Tea’s more accessible tracks) the next big indie crossover hit. Darker, intense tunes like the adrenaline-soaked anxiety of “I’m In No Mood” and the ominous pulsing on “In My Little Thatched Hut” were expanded into multifaceted mini-jams with emotional ups and downs. Even the submissive, romantic invitation on “Teach Me, Sweetheart” is transformed; Eleanor delivered the command with the unyielding insistence of a dominatrix, and she was able to divert attention from the din surrounding her voice.

After blazing renditions of the anthemic “Single Again” and the freakish, fantastical “Blueberry Boat,” the band returned for a short encore before disappearing. With such a high-energy set, every song a screamer – never once did the Furnaces take a breather with an acoustic bit or try to recreate the low noodlings of their studio work – it’s hard to believe that the Fiery Furnaces haven’t melded their love of blistering blues-rock, far-out lyrical sensibilities and electronic fireworks into a sprawling work of near-genius that could impress their high-minded followers and win them casual fans at the same time. But if their prolific output and astounding endurance onstage are any indication, they’ll get around to it one of these days.

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