Arc In Round
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Better than: Being alone with a single-malt and your exquisite sorrows.
The story as relayed by Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison is that it's the name his mother gave him for being so shy. Last night's banter didn't cover that ground, but Hutchison did modestly reminisce a little about the old days, name-checking smaller San Francisco clubs through which his band came up. By now a sold-out show at the Independent seemed apt -- still intimate, yet fully and benevolently crowded.
Someone shouted, "Scott, you're awesome!"
"It's always a fuckin' dude!" the bandleader replied. "If it wasn't a guy in a beard and a check shirt, I'd be happy!" No hard feelings, of course. Warm laughter all around. Then sweet strong music.
At first the evening felt like a complacent date night in some genial East Coast college town. The crowd seemed exceedingly mild-mannered, almost deferential. Opener Arc In Round filled the room nicely, its airy vamps good for soaking up with those first few drinks, and setting the table for our headliner. But manners fray, in a good way, when powering through the FR catalogue of floor-stompers and waltzy wallowers -- handsome and solemn songs which celebrate various ways of welling up. It was music to cry in your drink to, or make a pass at somebody. Maybe the wrong somebody. It could make you feel like a war had ended. Or was coming.
The Frightened Rabbit mandate, according to its website, is to "keep pop music alive by getting it out of that dress and into a sweater." Yes, but this comes from a songwriter known to hole himself up on the coast of Scotland seeking sharable, tuneful epiphanies. One vital aspect of Hutchison's awesomeness is that he's not too shy to remind us, for instance, that "It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm."
And so the funnest thing about Frightened Rabbit is that even the anthems are downers. Maybe it is the special talent of Scottish indie rock to know the difference between earnest and humorless, between rousing and morose.
Hearteningly, the crowd knew where all the "ohs" and "ahs" belonged. The songs kept ending like spectacular sports plays, with applause erupting.
He told the "Boxing Night" origin story: the grim Glasgow scene of a forlorn Hutchison alone in his underwear at Christmastime, drowning post-breakup sorrows in booze and Billy Joel records. Although he excels at describing this episode to live audiences, and at conjuring its essence in song, he does not recommend living through it.
"State Hospital," the title track from the band's most recent EP, sounded refreshed by its live lack of studio sheen. It's a winner either way, driven as much by arresting imagery -- "Her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs" -- as by singular delivery. In Hutchison's accent, "down" sounds like "d'yune," as if to rhyme with "swoon," which is what we did.
And then the encore brought those wonderfully melodic falsetto sobs over a solo-acoustic "Poke." It would've been ballsy to end there, but why not bring the whole band back out, and bring on another few rounds? In "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms," there's that line, "I might not want you back, but I want to kill him." Mildness of manner having at last fully given way, the crowd sang emphatically along with that line, gushing cathartic recognition and gratitude.
Overheard at the bar: First time here? Welcome, brother. I'm afraid I still gotta charge you for the drinks.