Friedberger is one of the few contemporary artists that make you curious to know what they’ll be singing in 10 or 20 years.
The Hideout Inn in Chicago is a strange gem of a venue, looking like a cross between a bed-and-breakfast, a hunting lodge and a dive bar, complete with a charming little stage where you’d expect to see an amateur theater production of Our Town. Others may disagree with that assessment, but should agree that it’s a great place to hear music. On a recent autumn evening, concertgoers were in for a double treat with a 45-minute opening set by rising star Peter Oren and a longer set by former-Fiery Furnaces-front person-turned-solo-artist Eleanor Friedberger.
If you’ve read about Peter Oren, you’ve probably heard of his preternaturally mature-sounding voice, which emerges full-blown from his 25-year old frame. But putting it that way makes him sound like another iteration of English singer-songwriter George Ezra, and he’s much, much more: An uncommonly thoughtful songwriter who harnesses the timeless elements of folk to conjure quite timely concerns. Accompanied only by his own fingerpicked acoustic, Oren mostly sang songs from his second, most recent album, Anthropocene, whose songs frame issues of an epic, civilization-encompassing scope on an intimate scale. One of the most compelling performances of the evening was the ominous “Throw Down,” a kind of updating of Neil Young’s “Ohio” for the post-Occupy generation. His charming stage presence also lent several moments of levity. Oren seems to still be at the stage of being tickled that people come to see him. Yet it would not be a surprise if, in a few years, it will still be this easy to see him in such a small venue.
For Eleanor Friedberger it felt like a kind of homecoming since she was essentially on her way to have Thanksgiving with family in the Chicago suburbs. So far, she has released three excellent solo albums which have only gotten better and better, culminating with last year’s New View. On this evening, she drew mostly from the latter albums, playing only crowd-pleasing closer “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight” from her debut.
Friedberger is a rare bird, someone who can play her songs alone on an electric guitar or even—as she did a few times—with a backing track, karaoke-style—and still be totally arresting. There are very few performers whose songs are good enough to pull this off. Songs like “Your Word,” “Other Boys” and “Roosevelt Island,” among others, show off not only her talent for melody but also a kind of Salinger-esque knack for capturing whole moods and personalities by way of understated, striking, well-chosen detail. She also played two unreleased songs that if we’re lucky, might well be a preview of an album to come.
One of the strongest songwriters, musicians and performers in action, Friedberger is one of the few contemporary artists that make you curious to know what they’ll be singing in 10 or 20 years. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, catch these young artists early in their career.