I walked up the stairs to the Black Cat’s main stage and took in a slightly less than half-full room. A half-full room filled with a loud bass groove and an even louder, clean guitar. But my immediate attention was directed towards the female vocals from the stage. The vocals were unlike anything I have heard before but at the same time very familiar. The band Hospitality was opening the night for fellow Merge Records label mate, Eleanor Freidberger.
There was nothing flashy about Hospitality; they’re a band that writes great pop songs with just enough complexity to keep a Thursday night crowd completely enraptured. Amber Papini (center front of the stage) kept everyone guessing with her vocals. At points, they were simple and clean; at other times almost to the point of yelling but with a cutesy sense of angst. Halfway through the set, her loud raspy singing must have gotten to her as she asked between songs for a “whiskey, no ice… for my throat”. (Or maybe she just wanted some whiskey. The rest of the band jokingly made the same request following the next song).
Throughout their set it was nearly impossible to not tap your feet or bob your head, culminating with a rousing version of “All Day Today” sans the harmonica, horns and piano but with Papini ferociously posing the question to the crowd “…don’t you know?” Yes, we know…it’s time for more whiskey.
After hopscotching around with the Portlandia tour, Friedberger has taken to the road on her own to support her first solo record, Last Summer. (Most will know Friedberger as half of the brother/sister hipster darling duo Fiery Furnaces).
Twenty minutes later Eleanor Friedberger (freed-burger; not fries and burgers) took the stage with her band before a crowd that remained slightly more than half full. The set began with a hiccup (the monitors were not working properly), but Friedberger and her guitarist engaged in a two-minute guitar tuning battle as the sound guy fixed the issues.
Friedberger started her set with the opening track from the record, “My Mistake,” bringing the crowd back to the stage from their interlude at the bar (whiskey time!). The itinerants almost immediately started swaying back and forth in a sort of white people weight-shifting dance style. She then clued everyone in as to how the rest of the night would proceed, stating that “tonight will be a lot of new songs.” Eleanor set her guitar down for a few songs, but it was those uniquely comforting songs with her guitar that really showed she is much more than just a vocalist. With a frilly suede jacket and piercing eyes hidden slightly behind her bangs, every song she sang had a sweet ferocity to it.
By the time Friedberger got to “Heaven” the crowd had transitioned from gentle swaying to straight-up knee moving, head bobbing dance moves. While a Friedberger show doesn’t call for dancing, per se, the crowd’s movement showed love for both newer and older songs and proved that even if she thought new songs might bore the crowd… they didn’t.
Friedberger ended the night with a two song encore. Starting things off solo, she deftly brushed off a small mistake and the crowd ate it up. The band came out for the night’s final song , a perfect cover of Bob Dylan’s “True Love Tends to Forget.” For those in attendance, there won’t be any forgetting of their love for Friedberger’s music.