Sophomore year, I received the dreaded call from home after a football game in the fall. Shadow, the trusty black Labrador companion that saw me through the whole of my childhood, had been put to sleep earlier that day. It was the sort of flooring call I knew I’d eventually receive. But that sort of preparation and thinking still doesn’t make it any easier. He was 14 for Christ’s sake, and saw more doggy memories than most other doggies ever see. Some of my favorite times in life are attached to the red-collared beast, and I wouldn’t trade them for any signed copy of the rarest of rare first-pressed copy of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?. It was time for Shadow to go, and that’s just something I’d have to deal with.

And as much as it hurt me to say, I was ready to do the same with the Fiery Furnaces. It might seem like a loose connection, but really it’s not — especially considering the Furnaces will probably write a bubbly song about putting their own pet to sleep any day now.

With the release of 2007’s Widow City, I knew it was time to put Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger’s project out to the great band pasture in the sky. They sounded so far removed from Eleanor’s growling quips about Coke and Pepsi and verbal wordplay about snaggletooths and the careening guitar avalanches that enveloped songs like “Straight Street.” Matthew’s pitter-patter of piano blazes from tracks like “The Garfield El” vanished in a cloud of grinding guitar. Even the weaker tracks off Bitter Tea (2006) crushed the isolated, top-notch tracks from Widow City. Eleanor, who’d never sounded deflated before, was just spent.

The Furnaces never treaded lightly on any musical terrain, and they actually fit the billing of avant-garde, though they’d probably just shrug it off. Matthew wrote tracks on the everyday shit that should never be worth a damn, and Eleanor branded them her own — tracks of English football clubs, American geography, cigarettes. Hell, their second album was a colossal concept effort, and it still stands as one of the best from the new millennium. Pure, sexy, indie.

The Furnaces’s dynamic nature was what always made them the band they were. But at the same time, it pigeonholed them, and pretty much only set them up to disappoint listeners in the future. They didn’t fall into the traps like Interpol did, releasing two solid albums, then collapsing under drowsy and monotonous guitar pieces and Paul Banks’s unbelievably incomprehensible rambles, but they still had their own mountains to climb to stay fresh.

And just like any great dog, I have a lot of my memories attached to “Blueberry Boat” or “South is Only a Home.” And screw it: I even liked Rehearsing My Choir. Any band that wants to put their grandmother on an album — and actually pull it off — has done something right in my book, even if what really made the Furnaces auditory shape shifters — Eleanor’s quick wit and unbelievable storytelling ability — was thrown into the backseat and replaced by a shrieking grandma.

And really, I love the brother/sister duo. They were the ones that even made that thing the University calls “The Michigan Difference” matter. I had no idea what Michigan was about, but when I heard tracks like “Blueberry Boat,” Eleanor quipping, “You see, I’m from Grand Rapids and up my way / They grow the best blueberries in the U. S. of A.,” it was impossible not to love the guys. And “Benton Harbor Blues” actually made me consider a road trip to the city, just out of sheer love for the track (despite the somewhat depressing title).

But it was over. The Furnaces suffered from a problem that strikes a lot of great bands: Their sound was so original and so spastic, that the only way they could progress would be to build upon Eleanor’s ridiculously engrossing stories and Matthew’s tightly scatterbrained instrumental arrangements. But they’d worn out their welcome. Even their alienating, bombastic, fluttering kitsch was wearing off.

It was time to put them down.

And then, the grizzled black Lab soared off the porch and fetched a tennis ball with all the gusto of a frolicking tank-of-a-puppy once again. The Furnaces released their live album, Remember.

Remember isn’t a life-changing, genre-bending, marathon orgasm that the Furnaces might be capable of. But it does show the Friedbergers in a charming new light. They’re still their blaring, chaotic selves. But the album, more than anything else, shows the band in their element. The damn album dips its hand into the pot of all their previous albums, and reworks songs so much that at times, it’s impossible to decipher exactly what song they’re headed toward. “Blueberry Boat” kind of sounds like “Blueberry Boat,” but only occasionally during the live track. Hell, Eleanor even flubs up some lines.

But their passion and energy is what makes Remember the band’s saving grace. Tracks like “Chris Michaels” and “1917” explode with the electric vitality that seemed to have disappeared years ago. Even Widow tracks “Philadelphia Grand Jury” and “Clear Signal from Cairo” pop with Eleanor’s vocals blending against Matthew’s glistening keyboard flourishes. It’s the kind of thing that saves a band from extinction and reveals a newfound energy.

And all of the sudden it didn’t matter anymore that their sound might have been getting old. Sure, it’s still prickly and static, pissing off more people than making new fans. But more than anything else, their creativity was back. No longer were they stale. And in the words of Eleanor Friedberger: “My dog was lost but now he’s found.” And thank God for that.

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