Beer/Album Pairing: The Fire Tonight
“Our entire relationship is unethical,” accused Stephen Russ as he antagonistically leered at me, ending the argument The Fire Tonight’s drummer and I were having while we drank beers in the closest thing Arlington, VA has to a dive bar. The Galaxy Hut was the same dive-ish bar that Russ and I had first met over a year and a half ago at his band’s concert, a concert I had been assigned to cover; our relationship has since settled into a William Miller and Russell Hammond cacophony of suspicion, respect, and possibly man-crushing-tinged professionalism. This current meeting was in regards to The Fire Tonight’s release of their latest album – a self-titled project that weaves together the band member’s prodigious musical talents into their most beautifully coherent musical expression to date. The argument centered on Russ’ attempts to get me to change my beer selections for this very article. Not that he dislikes any of the beers, mind you, but he’s planning on serving this article’s suggested beers at the album release party, and the beers I’ve selected are fairly expensive. To be fair, last I checked, being a drummer in an indie rock band, no matter how good the drummer or band, rarely, if ever, makes Forbes’ list of best-paying jobs.
But, fairness aside, as I tried to explain to Mr. Russ, just because I’ve never taken an Ethics in Journalism class doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the entrance to the road of journalistic compromise when I’m nudged in its direction. Of course, that’s when he pointed out that “our entire relationship is unethical.”
Now is neither the time nor place to defend myself against the charge leveled at my integrity, but I would like to point out that I successfully resisted the urge to cater to Stephen Russ’ druthers; all the beer selections below are solely mine, and not a single member or representative of The Fire Tonight was consulted in the making of this list.
The three members of The Fire Tonight frequently label themselves as piano-rock; and considering the immense keyboard and music theory skills of the band’s pianist, Jesse James, not to mention the fact that the piano is featured quite prominently, “piano-rock” is very apt as long as people realize that “rock” is an important part of the band’s identity, too. No worries, though; the aforementioned Stephen Russ plays the drums with a level of passion and intensity that make it next to impossible for the listener to underestimate The Fire Tonight’s rock lineage. The band’s vocalist, Colin Derrick, has a compelling and interesting voice that matches his plain ol’ and considerable musical talent. Playing multiple instruments, the three musicians integrate a variety of influences into a high energy and intriguing expression of virtuosity. By way of peg boarding The Fire Tonight’s music for the uninitiated, fusion jazz, prog rock, and electronic alt-rock (in the vein of Radiohead) would be the first three genres listed on the band’s Wikipedia page if they had a Wikipedia page.
As noted above, the band’s latest is their best album to date. Its predecessor, How Could Anyone Do this?!, is a collection of great songs; The Fire Tonight is a great album. The band has a history of releasing interesting and multiple-listening worthy albums, but this latest is an expression of a maturing band made up of already mature musicians who have successfully captured the The Fire Tonight’s unified voice without sacrificing the variety, multiple influences, and band member personalities that come to bear on their music. As such, the music, and specifically the music found on The Fire Tonight, is not necessarily made for the casual listener. This is music lovers’ music. Each subsequent listen uncovers previously unnoticed musical expressions, and every song on The Fire Tonight is layered and worthy of reflection. Which is why I’ve chosen farmhouse ales and/or Belgian beers to pair with The Fire Tonight.
Farmhouse ales utilize a variety of yeast strains and other ingredients in order to create multi-layered flavor profiles that expand the drinker’s palate. But, good farmhouse ales do this without sacrificing the characteristics that beer is expected to have – malt toastiness and richness, hop bitterness, et al. Belgian beers, specifically beer brewed in abbeys, if not technically farmhouse ales, and some are, reflect the same varied and interesting aroma and flavor profiles. Farmhouse ales are beers brewed for beer lovers. In other words, the perfect beer style(s) to pair with The Fire Tonight.
I have selected my six favorite tracks from the album (I would’ve liked to have paired beers with each and every track, but the word count prohibits that). By all means, let me know which beers you believe work better with the album.
“Sucker Punch” is vintage The Fire Tonight – the piano of Jesse James dazzles; Stephen Russ’ threat of annihilating his kit provides the tension; and Collin Derrick demonstrates his ability to provide multiple story-telling levels with his vocals. The obvious beer pairing is the famed and steady yet complex at the same time stalwart of farmhouse ales – the Dupont Saison. Combining notes of farmhouse funk with refreshing citrus, the Dupont Saison is a beer full of spiciness and, at the same time, familiarity for the farmhouse ale lover – much like “Sucker Punch.”
“Le Côté Sombre”
If there is a song on The Fire Tonight that is meant for quiet contemplation, it’s “Le Côtè Sombre.” Make no mistake, though, this track contains all the compelling fervency that is expected in a song from The Fire Tonight. Derrick’s voice croons you into commitment as James and Russ slowly and assuredly add on the levels of intrigue. By the time the track finishes, you want more. Chimay Tripel (white cap) has a sweetness that belies the layers to come. Sip this Belgian tripel and by the end of “Le Côtè Sombre” you will want more beer and more song.
I’ve used the word “virtuosity” already in this article, but I’m going to use it again. If you have any doubt of the musical virtuosity of The Fire Tonight’s members, allow me to introduce you to “Aiur.” And, with that, for me, Rochefort 10, my personal favorite Belgian beer, makes an excellent pairing. It’s hard to find a better example of a beer, much less within its style, than the Rochefort 10. Deeply complex and rewarding, there is little doubt, if any, left in the minds of those who love this dark, delicious beer about the brewers’ virtuosity.
“Old White Men in Business Suits”
If the song’s name doesn’t intrigue you, I promise you that you will immediately be grabbed by the intensity with which the band rips into this anthem against the powers-that-be. By the time Derrick, with all the commitment of a tried and true social revolutionary, melodically declares, “Old white men in business suits will chain you down and cut your roots,” you will be mentally composing the resignation letter that frees you from your cubicle. Of course, since most people aren’t rock-and-rollers and have mortgage payments to worry about, living a vicarious revolution through The Fire Tonight’s “Old White Men in Business Suits” will have to do. Thankfully, Stone Brewing Company has given us Arrogant Bastard Ale to help wash down that contempt for “the man.” An American strong ale, Arrogant Bastard has all the spit and verve needed to pair with such a middle-finger-thrust-in-the-air song like “Old White Men in Business Suits.”
“Don’t Fear Failure”
The funky smoothness of “Don’t Fear Failure” would fit well in the smokiest of jazz lounges, but without sacrificing any of the rock edginess that permeates The Fire Tonight. The song features M.C. Logic, a hip hop artist based out of the DC area, and he fits perfectly within the band’s identity of wonderfully melded genres. For the uninitiated, like the pairing of differing musical styles, the complexities of farmhouse ales can, at first, be overwhelming. However, like “Don’t Fear Failure,” the Ommegang Hennepin is a saison that is as drinkable as it is flavorful. Allow those flavors, both the new and the familiar, to swirl around in your mouth as you relax into the funky smoothness of “Don’t Fear Failure.”
A sharp ode to, well, strong women, “Strong Women” is also a showcase for the vibrant keyboarding skills of Jesse James. Colin Derrick and Stephen Russ join in on the acerbic affront woven into “Strong Women,” and the listener is left feeling both supremely compelled and mordant. In this situation, very few beers will do. And the best of those very few beers is The Bruery Tart of Darkness – a beer that matches the song’s caustic deliciousness.
Six beers for one album may seem like a lot; however, considering that The Fire Tonight is an album that will work its way into regular rotation for most listeners, six beers are probably not enough. At first listen, however, invite friends over to share the listening and drinking experience. Of course, that’s not possible if you don’t own the album. Buy it here; not only will you be adding an excellent album to your music library, but you’ll also be helping Stephen Russ afford these six beers.
 There used to be an actual dive bar in Arlington, Jay’s Saloon and Grille, but it closed a couple of months ago because the building was deemed hazardous.
 I don’t understand why there is no Wikipedia page for The Fire Tonight. I have zero understanding of how Wikipedia pages happen (I assume magic); someone who does, should fix this (with magic).
 The casual listener will enjoy the album, too.
 Brewers triple the amount of malts in this beer style, hence the name.