If misery truly does love company, then the praise currently being heaped upon Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit should come as no surprise to anyone, particularly lead bunny Scott Hutchison. The group’s debut record, 2006’s Sing the Greys, was an exhilarating triumph of indie proportions, veering deftly from noisy garage anthems to acoustic revelry, and gained the young band more than a few admirers on this side of the pond. It is, however, the success of the band’s most recent record that has everyone gasping for breath.
The Midnight Organ Fight is almost too good to be true; an impressive and well-written collection of songs that was among the best albums to be released this year. Even a prickly old music snob like me was finding it difficult to conceal my enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing the record translated live and in person, particularly in a tiny, worn down and dirty rock club like the Rhythm Room. Many times I have found myself dizzy with anticipation, on the brink of witnessing the “Next Big Thing,” only to be underwhelmed by an amateurish live show. This band, thankfully, did not disappoint.
Opening with the 6/4 stomper “I Feel Better”, Frightened Rabbit seemed determined to outdistance their timid moniker, playing with great vigor and wonderful precision. Proof that the Midnight songs have struck a chord of resonance with people was more than evident, as people of all types eagerly cast their voices into the air. Pretty much every color of the rock fan rainbow (indie kids, frat boys, graybeards, groupie chicks, suit and tie guys, longhairs) were in attendance on this evening, drawn in by the universal relevance of these songs and everyone was openly transfixed by the simple magic emanating from the low rise stage.
Despite his thick Scottish brogue, Hutchison’s delivery remains distinct and direct enough so as to avoid misinterpretation. When he casually wonders “Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name / How come one man got so much fame?” there is no mistaking his candor. When he claims that “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm” we understand and agree, non-plussed by his casual profanity. Indeed, lyrics this blunt and miserable could become something of a distraction in lesser hands.
Hutchison’s songs wear their emotional scars in plain view, and it is this, perhaps, that unifies all of the seemingly disparate people in attendance tonight. Or maybe it’s the music. Catchy, upbeat, and glaringly Scottish—all these songs are rendered in a major key, an unusual way to convey feelings of such immense pain and intimacy. In retrospect, the attraction could just as easily be attributed to the pounding rhythms, courtesy of Scott’s younger brother Grant (a dead ringer for the Geico caveman). Grant is that rare rock drummer who eschews traditional fills and runs, opting instead for nuance, fluidity, and well-timed ferocity. Even “Old Old Fashioned”, the album’s folksy centerpiece, was treated to a double-tom wham-bam percussion display—exciting enough to get our feet moving, but not so flashy as to detract from the song’s minimalist longing. “The Modern Leper”, the most rousing, self-loathing rallying cry you could possibly imagine, is my song of the year for 2008. They played a glorious version of it mid-set and probably could have called it a night there and then without disappointing a single soul.
Lucky for us, they played on, plowing through the bulk of Midnight with only a few well-chosen tracks off Sing the Greys added to close the set—one of which, “Square 9” concluded with nary a soul on stage save the aforementioned caveman drummer, pounding away savagely at his kit for a few bars, oblivious, before rising to his feet with a roar of pure animalistic defiance. “There, you happy?” he seemed to say. Why yes, we are, thanks! Very much so! We were happier still to experience for an encore a solo Scott Hutchison, acoustic guitar in hand, standing at the very front lip of the stage, sans microphone, fingering his way through “Poke”, encouraging the room to listen quietly as he warbled the tortured verse, and then to join him on the heavenly “oooh oooh oooh” chorus… it was but one of many, many memorable moments in a stellar performance. This band’s meteoric rise is likely to continue—the odds of ever seeing them in a room this small are slim to none, making this particular experience all the more precious.