Muriel Spark wrote that she disliked the word ‘experimental’ as an adjective for art because it implied that the outcome was a failure. Eleanor Friedberger’s New View contains songs as experimental as any of the eight-minute opuses on her albums with former band Fiery Furnaces, but ironically New View is not ‘experimental’ in a traditional way, and certainly not a failure. It’s an album of a woman singing twelve, strange pop songs, quite differently. New View is beautiful, but it’s not pop - it’s a three-chord, 45 minute Richard Linklater conversation. And that’s why tonight’s show is sold out.
Eleanor’s first London show is in Hackney, in an ex-service men’s member’s club - the MOTH club (christened in 1927, an acronym for the ‘Memorable Order of Tin Hats’). The venue was in danger of closing last year, so sadly had to open its doors up to the hipsters of Hackney. Hipsters generally don’t wear tin hats, but they do like going to hipster gigs, and despite staunch regulars at the bar grumbling about “the type of people you get on nights like tonight”, the club is heaving this evening, so hey, it’s not all bad, guys. The back room with the stage in is a gold glitter-ceilinged bingo hall. There’s an old machine gun hanging from the ceiling. It’s great.
Friedberger takes the decision to sit on a stool in the middle of the stage for the majority of the set, playing by herself without a backing band. The songs are conversational, but the conversation is wonderfully strange. She opens with ‘He Never Told Me About His Mother’, her audience swaying left and right like beardy reeds. “Have you seen the movie yet?” she asks. “There’s a lot about it in the press.” Yes, I have seen the movie thanks Eleanor. Solid performances, shame about the Oscar snub. “I’m opening a tree museum, that’s my new hobby.” Oh right, sounds great Eleanor. What’s a tree museum?
Friedberger ends her set by coming back onstage for an encore and asking her audience, “What should I finish with?” The answer from the crowd is a resounding “My Mistakes” her first single from her first album, back in 2011. “Oh but that song only has two chords!” she replies. But she sings it anyway, because Eleanor Friedberger is lovely.