In interviews teasing the release of their upcoming Fat Possum album “Bitter Tea,” Fiery Furnaces guitarist-songwriter Matthew Friedberger has taken to describing the band’s sound as “sissy psychedelic Satanism.” While ostensibly tongue-in-cheek, the phrase is an accurate encapsulation of the band’s alternately enthralling and exasperating sound as any.
This one-off show was something of a coming-out party for the “Bitter Tea” material — although, in typically contrarian fashion, the Friedberger siblings completely overhauled the songs, replacing the tinkling studio keyboards with angular, squealing guitars.
The approach proved thoroughly gripping on the morning-after plaint “I’m in No Mood” (which took on a neo-flamenco feel here) and “Black-Hearted Boy,” an already dark piece that turned even more sinister thanks to riffing that recalled sludge-rock forefathers the Groundhogs. A more recent reference point — particularly when the Friedbergers’ rough-hewn harmonies took hold — was Royal Trux, although the Furnaces replace that band’s junked-out ennui with more of a childlike worldview.
Occasionally, the quartet seemed to be treading water. Matthew Friedberger falls back too often on a few effects — most noticeably a thereminlike feedback screed — that blur the edges of songs a bit too much, imparting a homogeneity to the perf’s latter stages.
He did produce some daffily expressionistic fillips, however, on songs like an extended “Chris Michaels” and “My Dog Was Lost but Now He’s Found,” both of which originated on the 2004 release “Blueberry Boat.” Eleanor Friedberger imbued the latter tune with a winsomeness that was hard to resist.
While she’s not the most outgoing front person out there — on this evening, she stuck to the far side of the stage so earnestly, it seemed almost like an electronic ankle bracelet was tethering her — Eleanor possesses an undeniable magnetism. Her tomboyish presence — she could easily pass for a young Kristy McNichol — doesn’t hurt, but it’s the sly, cocked-eyebrow way she delivers the lyrics that really cuts to the quick.
Of late, she’s also harnessed a cool sensuality — expressed best here in the vamping “Teach Me, Sweetheart” and a short but sweet “Benton Harbor Blues” — that adds a missing piece to the Furnaces’ puzzle. That may not be enough to get them a Pepsi commercial, but it adds another layer of intrigue to the crazy-quilt of one of the decade’s most consistently surprising acts.