At the end of a brisk Monday night show, Fiery Furnaces mastermind Matthew Friedberger glared at the Troubadour crowd with a wry smirk, his demeanor full of self-satisfaction as fans begged for a copy of the evening’s set list. Instead of handing it to one of the lucky Furnaces faithful, he tore the sheet into six pieces and doled out the shreds. Friedberger reveled in the perplexed responses to his unabashedly insolent gesture. It was a fleeting moment, but the act stands as a surprisingly accurate microcosm of his band’s confounding approach to live performance — destroy and deconstruct familiar songs into an avant amalgamation of garage rock, prog-pop and stream of conscious lyrics.
Much of the concert saw the Furnaces focusing on new material from “Widow City,” whose riff-laden ’70s-style rockers were instantly transformed into more inaccessible approximations of their former selves. Friedberger sat behind his three keyboards (an organ, synth and mini synth), twiddling knobs and improvising layers of melody over the jagged vocal ticks of his sister Eleanor, whose bewitching stage presence remained the visual focal point throughout the perf.
Live interpretations were not surprisingly more confrontational than the nuanced originals. Melodic standbys like “Single Again” and “Evergreen,” both from 2005’s gloriously effervescent “EP,” were blistered by the band’s manic rhythm section. Breakneck tempo shifts cut unpredictably through each song, often obliterating the most gorgeously crafted melodies. Throughout the technically challenging compositions, the band stayed loose and focused, channeling the intimate sense of feel more often found in well-honed jazz outfits than contemporary indie rock groups.
Band performs Nov. 3 at New York’s Hiro Ballroom.