Photo Courtesy of Press Here Publicity
Because I asked you: Eleanor Friedberger
Two and a half years ago, when Cat’s Cradle opened its small-capacity Back Room, it was Eleanor Friedberger onstage. Last Saturday night, as my pal Peter and I leaned against the bar, we surveyed the sparse crowd and started listing other shows we’d seen there where the 160-capacity room was only one-half or one-third full. There was Algiers, The Clean, Sloan, Robyn Hitchcock...
We stopped then, but I couldn’t help thinking that the slim crowd had to mean a slightly underwhelming return visit for Eleanor Friedberger, whose music has continued to take flight since she stood here singing songs from Personal Record.
If Friedberger minded, she gave no indication. A preternaturally comfortable performer, she has grown into the role of bandleader; she and her excellent backing group, Icewater, have coalesced into a unit she says feels like family. Playfully chiding her bassist about his placement of an onstage beverage, Friedberger seemed like an amiable den mother. The sense of simpatico could be felt in the band's sympathetic accompaniment, which never overpowered the sensibility at the center.
Bookended by the first and last songs from this year's New View
, the solid, engaging set emphasized the latest tracks while pulling from the other records Friedberger has made under her own name. In a 2013 interview with the INDY,
Friedberger admitted to a measure of regret about going solo using the words printed on her birth certificate. She was referring, no doubt, to projects like Bon Iver, the evocative sounding alias of Justin Vernon, or Destroyer, the solo guise of New Pornographers’ Dan Bejar. In retrospect, staying Eleanor Friedberger seems like a sage, self-knowing move by an artist whose sound and cadence and song priorities are resolutely her own.
Sure, the way she suddenly packs a bunch of syllables into one line and makes it sound easy might remind you of Joni Mitchell, and the way she spits out a lyric as an almost conversational aside is very Chrissie Hynde. But like these artists, Friedberger’s persona is writ large, instantly recognizable and inseparable from the songs.
You know how singers often close their eyes when they sing, as if performing a magic trick that requires them to shut us out so that the muse might speak through them? Eleanor Friedberger is not that kind of singer, instead sometimes she's looking straight at us, sometimes at a place above and beyond, a distant mountaintop perhaps.
There’s no elusiveness in her songs, either, no hiding behind reverb or vague verbiage. There's just something she has to say. And she does so through unexpected details, layers of implication, wry wit, and heart.
On Saturday night, it was all there in this sequence from the languid “Because I Asked You,"
whether or not the crowd was: “Why would you like to take it slow/Hold me till I let you go/Or treat me like a tennis pro?/Why would you wanna do that? Because I asked you.”