It’s 10:15pm on a Thursday night and Dominant Legs is close to wrapping up their set at the Crocodile, dedicating the last song to Eleanor, and asking the audience to consider buying a CD to help buy back some stolen equipment (read more about it or help out here). The crowd is partially responsive. A couple members of the throng that were pretty into their set start to shuffle towards the merch booth as the band begins to play “Hoop of Love“. They sound fantastic. The crowd is starting to loosen up and dance around. I look towards the front of the crowd and right up against the stage is Eleanor Friedberger and her lead guitarist John Eatherly, bopping and swaying along. Lord knows they’ve heard this song dozens of times along their tour, but they dance and smile like it’s the first time.
Within the Fiery Furnaces context and without, Eleanor writes beautiful stories that are equal parts dizzying, shocking, and endearing. But on her own, she seems more autobiographical and more vulnerable. And at 10:30pm, when Eleanor and her band clamber up onto the stage and start up the pop gem “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight“, it’s fun to watch her spin her life in the form of a song. She’s not afraid to crack a smile at the lines she’s written because she’s honest to herself. The songs of her solo LP Last Summer, and even the nameless new tracks that weave in between them in her live set, are pieces of a diary disguised as pop songs. Their arrangement is simple and sweet. Eatherly occasionally rips out a bouncy, 1960s guitar solo, but other than that, the tracks are bare bones – just Eleanor and her life, and the songs that come out of it.
About halfway through her set, Dominant Legs joins us in the crowd to dance along. Eleanor dedicates songs back to them. They cheer back at the stage. Everything is honest. Eleanor isn’t relying on stage tricks or lighting or aesthetic. Rather, her songs speak for themselves, and nothing needs to be said or done to alter them. For the last song of her main set, Eleanor plays a faster, punkier version of “My Mistakes” and everyone in the Crocidile is dancing and singing along. At this point, Eleanor is a music lover among music lovers, and we all just get to share the experience together.
Eleanor is touring with Fred Armisted and Carrie Brownstein on the rest of the Portlandia tour as a musical guest. Check out her solo LP Last Summer, out now on Merge Records, and check out some more photos below: