Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Frightened RabbitPrevious Next
author HES date 26/11/16 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN
I wish I could say that I seldomly fall head over heels in love with bands - but I do. It’s in my genetic make up to blindly adore people that somehow have a talent for vividly describing the human condition. But. With that being said Frightened Rabbit is one of those bands I can see myself listening to for the next 10 years - and if I look back - only very few bands have survived a 10 year relationship with my busy ears. Now why is that even important to mention? Because that makes me extremely biased towards this band and hence, this review is already before show start dangerously close to be destined to share more characteristics with a love letter than a regular review of a show. On the other hand, the band has within the last three years probably reached an expectation level that is completely impossible to reach in reality.
As a matter of fact, it’s been 3 years since the band did an emotional hit and run on this scribe, as I didn’t know the band at all and were now hopelessly infatuated with them - with no prospect of seeing them again soon. Since then, the band released their fifth full-length "Painting of a Panic Attack" which received a moderate response from many, but still managed to completely infatuate yours truly as only Scott Hutchison’s incredible lyrical universe can. The record, more than ever, utilized synths and keys to create more of a musical wholesomeness that the other records had smaller bites of. This addition probably has to do with the addition of the former touring-only member Simon Liddel. Whether or not the band can fully master to replicate the grandiosity of the dystopia portrayed on "Painting of a Panic Attack", only a little time will tell as the already packed room gathers for the warm up act.
Because of their slightly generic name, I barely notice that I already kind of know of PAWS. The band is not in any way on their first tour around the block, as they just released their 3rd studio album "No Grace" - produced by none other than Mark Hoppus. The duo was originally a trio, but following the release bassist Ryan Drever left the band. However, tonight Philip Taylor (vocals/guitar) and Josh Swinney on drums seem to have found a decent replacement. Whereas PAWS sound like their producer would prefer it on record: Distorted, bassline heavy and extremely energetic – that is not the PAWS we see tonight. Philip Taylor’s vocals are primarily kept echo-less which is quite a feat as he proves to be a pretty skilled vocalist with a range beyond your average alt/punk dabbler.
One thing the band does take from their famous producer is an inclination to banter in-between songs. Especially Taylor is actually quite the entertainer, spitting jokes that seem unrehearsed and genuine – even stopping a song right before the break to tells us how his nose-ring just got stuck in his mic (a first for him also). Contrary to what usually works best for bands like PAWS it’s actually the slower, grungy songs towards the end of the set that really hit home – musically. Generally Josh Swinney on drums is an absolute bliss to watch as he hammers away intensely and for the latter songs contrapuntally which makes the songs just a little more provoking than your average pop-punk 4/4-constellation. Overall, PAWS reminds me of what seems to be a lost art; actually warming up an audience as the warm up act. Here PAWS deliver with more value than most warm up acts do and Frightened Rabbit will surely benefit from the aftermath of this injection of good spirit.
Like clockwork, Frightened Rabbit hit the stage as the clock strikes ten to the snaring, electronic drums of "Get Out" from the band’s most recent album. The pompous sound of this particular track juxtaposes the relaxed smiling face of vocalist Scott Hutchison as bassist/guitarist Billy Kennedy’s vocals are mixed a little too high. Already characteristically sweating, Hutchison greets his audience with a little banter before jumping into the rhythmic "Holy" from the band’s fourth album "Pedestrian Verse". This more guitar-driven song seems to strike a better chord with the audience, but not nearly as much as the follow-up "The Modern Leper" from "The Midnight Organ Fight" as the song soars for the opening line of the chorus; "Is that you in front of me? Coming back for even more of exactly the same? You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg", and the crowd seems to answer back "Yes. Yes we are masochists" - because that’s why we’re here isn’t it? To masochistically beat ourselves into tears with words, by shouting along to lyrics that sadly tell the tale of all our broken relationships and horrible habits, while also being painfully aware that none of us could ever describe those as beautifully as Hutchison. I know that’s what brought me here.
"I Wish That I Was Sober" quickly brings you to your emotional knees if you weren’t already. Hutchison takes no hostages as he jumps into the verse at the second bar on every song, barely letting the audience brace for impact. The combination of buzzing synths and three-part harmonies upliftingly tell the dark story of being too incapacitated by alcohol to be able to carry on the conversations a serious life beckons. This is the wicked attractiveness of Frightened Rabbit’s best songs; the compositional grandness and lyrical bleakness. The contrast is quite effectful. The next song "Living In Color" is unfortunately an example of the band not utilizing the contrast enough, as the songs seems to forever loop in the same uncontrasted chorus.
The band however does win back terrain as they choose to attack our innards with the saddest country song ever written: "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms", which the band performs to perfection from the citar-sounding backdrop down to the strange and mystical waltz rhythm guitar refrain that carries into an reprise of the chorus-bridge. But as I look up, most of the band seems extremely pre-occupied with this perfection. As a matter of fact Kennedy has by now played 6 songs without noticing there’s an audience here tonight. "Little Drum" from the new album does not fare as a crowd favourite, but it’s sombre yet grand horn-sounding synths and whimsically composed backdrop for the chorus makes the song work better in a live setting than expected. In spite of it being a three and a half minute long song, it feels cinematic.
Luckily Hutchison makes up for it by joking around with his audience as a couple of token Scottsmen start heckling as per tradition. However, as they yell for a particular song, Hutchison reminds them, that the audience will have to impress the band enough for that to happen. For most artists this would’ve sounded crass and supercilious, but for Hutchison, it is nothing but honesty. And it’s refreshing to hear an artist articulating that not every audience gets all of him in spite of the all-revealing nature of his lyrics. He dedicates "Be Less Rude" from the band’s very first album "Sing The Greys" to these Scotsmen and carry on to the delight of a now very diligent audience hoping to behave well enough to get a few more songs out of the band. And that’s when an absolute surprise in the shape of "Fast Blood" that hurricanes through the crowded hall followed by flashing lights and "oh oh oh"-refrain. "Lump Street" again lets the dark clouds gather as the soundscapes clench like a fist, describing the Scottish projects: Dark and cold. The concrete pouring out of the synths as the bass trebles until the bridge suddenly turns danceable and attractive with lyrics of a Lump Street love story: "She’s a Lump Street girl, with a blade in her brow, raised by the state but they tore it all down. They fucked and they fought but it still felt right. Run away from these orange Lump Street lights. Get together now. Find hope. There is a life beyond the one you already know". Yet the audience still seems to find these "Painting of a Panic Attack"-compositions less attractive. The same is not to be said for the follow-up "Old Old Fashion". Actually it’s fair to say that the closing section of the set is nothing short of brilliant, also catching the whole of the audience's attention, comprising of the sailor-keyed "Acts of Man", the precious "The Oil Slick", "Woke Up Hurting" which is seemingly one of the only "new" songs the audience has memorized and lastly, brutally honest "Keep Yourself Warm". Everyone around me proudly yelling along to the bridge to the chorus: "You won’t find love in a, won’t find love in a hole. It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm", as the whole of the room crescendos to Hutchison’s modest vocals yelling; "Can you seeeeeee in the daaaaaark?".
And then, the band leaves the stage and it does become dark for a short while, but the crowd is quick to remember Hutchison’s encouragements and he does quickly come back on stage - alone. And in his embracing, yet stand-off-ish way, he continues to apologize for not having played the song the drunken Scotsmen have been yelling for most of the night: "Poke". Now this is not a song one with limited vocal chords just gets up to singing. And Hutchison was never a great singer - as he described earlier as he sang "The Oil Slick": "I've got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm". Or is he? Because the falsetto hum his chest utters sounds convincingly little like anything you’d find in a gutter and it’s one I’ve ever only heard done right live one time before - by a pretty serious country singer. The whole band comes back for three more songs ("Nothing Like You", "The Woodpile" and "The Loneliness and the Scream"), but for me, it would’ve been perfect to end this night off with Hutchison alone. He is as extrovert as his lyrics while his band is introvert and focused. The songs are completely tight and allow for Hutchison to play with some formats - especially vocally - where he wanders off from the recorded version every once in awhile. The feeling is perfectly summed up by a line from the last song of the night; "I have fallen in the forest. Did you hear me?". Everyone in the forest seems to hear it, also Hutchison. But I’m not sure the band heard it. I’m not sure they were mentally here tonight. So I end up being both the things I predicted in the start: Absolutely smitten with Hutchison, but having a hard time coinciding with a feeling of my expectations not fully being met. But as it is with unrequited love, it only makes you grow ever more fond of a thing. Let’s just say that’s the outcome.