Great Scott sells out for Frightened Rabbit

A review of Frightened Rabbit at Great Scott on January 18, 2009

, Staff Writer

The inclement weather that hit our fair city this past Sunday did little to keep a drove of people from making their way through the snowy streets of Allston, determined to attend Frightened Rabbit’s sold-out show at Great Scott. Last year’s release of The Midnight Organ Fight vaulted the Scottish quartet into the scene, and was widely heralded as one of the finest albums of last year with its masterful pacing and lyrics that range from poetic – as in “The Modern Leper” – to notably blunt – as in “Keep Yourself Warm.”

The main thing to be noticed from an orchestration viewpoint was that, for the most part, Frightened Rabbit didn’t have a bass player. I can safely say I had not before seen a four-piece band that did not use a bass guitar. It would be brought out here and there, but in general this is a quartet steeped quite heavily in the treble end of the spectrum. However, the lack of this seemingly necessarily instrument was barely noticeable once you actually got to listening to them: Frightened Rabbit’s music is just layer upon layer of dense soundscape piled on top of itself, topped by Scott Hutchinson’s unabashedly-Scottish accented vocals, which were on their own a real treat to listen to (I could listen to him draw out the letter “u” forever). On occasion things would get a little drone-y, the kind of stuff you just sway side to side to aimlessly, and it’s moments like these that can really define a band: anyone can write a hit indie pop song, but if you can keep people interested while you wade through a swamp of noise for minutes at a time, you’re probably doing something right.

This is not to say that Frightened Rabbit with a beat is anything to be disregarded. Oh no, quite to the contrary, they in fact boast some of the finest songwriting to be heard in a while. A clear highlight of the concert was their performance of “The Modern Leper”, the opener of Midnight Organ Fight and the opening song of the night. The song started with fairly simple acoustic strumming as Scott sang the first verse. Eventually his brother Grant entered with a resounding bass drum kick, and then everything yielded to the gorgeous chorus. Scott notably grew increasingly passionate as the song progressed, clutching the microphone tighter and squeezing his eyes shut as the sweat poured off his face. Grant’s drumming grew continually frenetic and urgent until the song gave way to its explosive conclusion before dying off fairly quickly.

The set generally consisted of tracks off their most recent album. Another predictable crowd favorite was “Head Rolls Off”, a song with a much a more forward-driving aesthetic versus the slamming-up-and-down that was “Modern Leper”. The song is wonderfully shoegaze-y in that 80s sort of way, with persistent acoustic strumming and a distinct two-and-four snare hit. It was a sweet and impassioned thing that is just a fine example of what Frightened Rabbit are really capable of. The set’s highlight was "Good Arms Vs Bad Arms", which Grant took over through the contrast of his powerful drumming with his delicate backing vocals.

It seems like the phenomenon that is Frightened Rabbit has begun to reach fever pitch proportions: the crowd was just ridiculously into the band no matter what they did. When they performed “The Twist” and "Old Old Fashioned" it sent everybody into a dancing frenzy. When Scott took things solo and sang “Poke” without the aid of his microphone we had silence that was eerily respectful, ’cause, come on, we were in Allston for God’s sake. And of course everyone just went nuts and belted “You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it” with glee at the apex of "My Backwards Walk".

The band did try a few new things, including a very different take on "The Greys" from their underappreciated debut album Sing the Greys to close out the main set. They also gave "Floating in the Forth" a shot for the first time in Boston, clearly showing off all of the work they have put in arranging the backing vocals on the tune. The sold-out crowd was appreciative of literally everything that the band played, every scrap of Scottish-accented banter that came from Scott Hutchinson’s lips, and every single song from the newly beloved Organ Fight.

But the thing is, Frightened Rabbit actually deserve the amount of praise they are getting: they really are just that good. And what’s amazing is you can tell Midnight Organ Fight is a bit of a warm-up for them. As good as the album is, there’s a slightly tentative nature to it that lets you know they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeve that have yet to be unleashed on this world. Their next album can’t come soon enough, and you can bet we’ll be seeing them again the next time they make their way into our town.

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