The Fiery Furnaces

At Richard's on Richards on Monday, October 15

The Fiery Furnaces can be accused of being many things: maddeningly self-indulgent, mind-boggingly wordy, and frustratingly determined to pack an album's worth of ideas into every schizophrenic song. Don't dare suggest, though, that the demented duo of Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger don't understand the old show-biz adage about always leaving the crowd wanting more. At the end of their Richard's set on a miserable Monday night, their great trick was almost making 400 or so die-hards forget what they'd just been subjected to for the previous hour.

Saving the best for last, the Friedbergers delivered an all-request encore as a thank-you to their fans. And rest assured that everyone left in the room at that point was a hard-core Furnaces fanatic. The curious were driven out somewhere around the time that Eleanor and her keyboard-pounding brother launched into "Forty-Eight Twenty-Three Twenty-Second Street " off 2005's unapologetically insane Rehearsing My Choir . The only thing that would have made that stream-of-consciousness skronk-boogie freak-out crazier would have been the siblings' grandmother hobbling out to re-create her vocal parts from the record.

While rambling octogenarians were sadly absent, Matthew and Eleanor did have company. Backing them was the smoking rhythm section of bassist Jason Loewenstein (ex-Sebadoh) and drummer Bob D'Amico. Both were allowed to step up during the show, driving home the point that, live at least, the Fiery Furnaces are very much a band. Stretches of the multi-movement "The Philadelphia Grand Jury" found Loewenstein (nattily attired in a vintage-looking Hí¼sker Dí¼ T-shirt) sounding like a death-match between Rage Against the Machine's Tim Commerford and that mustached hipster from Death From Above 1979. D'Amico was a coffee-and-crank-powered locomotive on "Clear Signal from Cairo", his performance even earning a brief smile from Matthew.

On the Friedbergers front, Eleanor is the natural performer in the family. Clad in striped GWG jeans that looked more Summer of Love than the Magic Numbers, she never stumbled on songs packed with more lines than a New York City telephone book. Matthew, meanwhile, sat hunched over an array of keyboards, organs, and synths, his virtuosity torpedoed by a weirdly joyless demeanour that suggests he doesn't get invited to a lot of dinner parties.

For a solid hour, the Furnaces plowed through a set list heavily weighted with songs off their recent albums– Rehearsing My Choir , Bitter Tea , and the just-released Widow City . If those outings have one thing in common, it's that they've tested the patience of even the band's biggest fans, the songs cannonballing illogically from lightning-bolt prog to metal-dipped ragtime to free-form indie-rock riffing on spoken-word cabaret. Having no guitarist on-stage didn't stop the Fiery Furnaces from bringing the thunder like Led Zeppelin during the glory years. As awesome as it was to watch from a technical standpoint, there was no point trying to sing along.

It was too bad the band didn't notice that a dance party erupted the second they started taking requests. The encore served as a reminder that, once upon a time, the Fiery Furnaces wrote some of the cleverest and most crazily catchy pop songs to ever blast out of the trenches of DIY America. That "Chris Michaels" became a careering extended jam didn't make the Blueberry Boat number any less brilliant. In fact, there was a lesson to be learned from the dude joyously conducting the song up in the Richard's balcony: as fine as it is to challenge your fans, sometimes there's nothing wrong with giving the people what they want.