While a concert record is typically expected to excise sculpted perfectionism to capture a living, bleeding moment in time, the Fiery Furnaces have never been poster children for convention. Remember, their huge two-disc compilation, strips away all the classic signifiers of a live album. The collection is stitched together from three years of live recording, encompassing different tours, lineups and audio fidelity levels, sometimes on a single track. Stage banter is minimal, and crowd roars have been surgically removed. Without the backstory, a listener might think it some sort of high-concept self-covers collage.
Matthew Friedberger has always been a fearless live re-interpreter of his recorded material, and he’s as likely to obliterate his songs’ best elements as to illuminate their hidden strengths. Take a controlled sample of two ballads from 2006’s savagely underrated Bitter Tea. Adding snaky guitar lines and a bossa nova throb to ‘Black-Hearted Boy’ gives momentum to sister Eleanor’s melancholy vocal. Transforming ‘Waiting to Know You’ from a dreamy waltz to a jittery funk workout is nearly sadistic.
But still, as with all the band’s releases, there’s thrilling music buried within for those who endure. The start-to-finish nailing of ‘Chris Michaels’, captured during ex-Sebadoh bassist Jason Lowenstein’s first tour of duty, is essential. The freewheelin’ Dylan charm that glides from ‘Japanese Slippers’ through ‘Whistle Rhapsody’ makes one long for a proper document of the tight medley format favored post-Blueberry Boat. And songs from the truly reviled Rehearsing My Choir are even more revelatory. Refocused away from Granny Sarantos’ polarizing NPR voice-over, the wit and melody inherent in tracks like ‘The Wayward Granddaughter’ and ‘Slavin’ Away’ seem suddenly obvious.
Weirdly though, the Frankenstein approach to editing the record’s tracks makes it feel less unpredictable than an actual show. The most interesting aspect of a Fiery Furnaces’ gig is waiting to discover which bits of songs might be scrambled and recombined to become something newly strange and great. Remember is mainly single songs, oddly constructed, without the continuity or context of the concert experience. Fans looking to relive the band’s occasionally amazing performances may be better off just remembering.