The first time I ever heard Frightened Rabbit, and I mean the first time, was at a gig they played last year at The Tunnels in Aberdeen. It was a no pre-sale, queue-on-the-night affair and I went along simply because a load of my friends were going. The night was freezing and the queue was out the door, round the corner, up the hill, but we were lucky enough to get into the 300 capacity venue. The queue should have tipped me off, but that night I discovered a special band whose back catalogue has made up a considerable proportion of my listening last year. Incidentally, The Cheeky Girls were performing elsewhere in Aberdeen that night. I’m pretty sure I chose the right gig, but then again, I guess I’ll never know the joy of seeing ‘Cheeky Holiday’ live now.
Now with major label support and touring in support of Pedestrian Verse, which entered the UK Album Chart Top 10 in its first week, it makes sense that Frightened Rabbit step up to the Music Hall. However, the question still remains in my mind when queueing (on a much more clement night, mind) whether the FRabbits would be able to create the same atmosphere of intimacy and camaraderie in a venue over four times that of the venue in which I’d first been wowed by them.
First up are Three Blind Wolves, delivering their heavy brand of folk with gusto. The Glaswegian band have progressed from a small EP on Communion Records to having a fine repertoire of accomplished and fleshed out songs. The visceral chemistry between the band is accentuated by the beautiful harmonies the band produce, reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash or, as my friend pointed out, a barbershop quartet. This is especially noticeable on slow-burner ‘Emily Rose’, which escalates into a rollicking barnstormer.
Wintersleep up the ante once Three Blind Wolves have exited the stage. Hailing from Halifax, NS, these lads may not have a large following in the UK, but that’s sure to change in the near future. Dealing in skewed riffs and idiosyncratic grooves, their set fully kicks the crowd into gear. ‘Resuscitate’ and ‘Martyr’ particularly stand out as songs which will garner them considerable airplay in the future. Catchy, yet intriguingly complex. Check out some of their tunes over here.
When Frightened Rabbit finally take the stage, flanked on either side by two stately three-armed crosses, they are greeted with with a wave of cheers from the crowd (well, after that period where the crowd mistakenly cheer the roadies preemptively). The band kick off with the surging ‘Holy’ from the new album, before laying into recent single ‘Backyard Skulls’. While not exactly falling flat, it is only on reaching older standards such as ‘Nothing Like You’ and The Modern Leper’ that the band really start to dig in and fill the room. Scott Hutchison is on stirling vocal form, yelping and crooning in his borders burr. Meanwhile, the band nail every cue and the progressive complexity of their later songs are held together by the band’s tight chemistry. Old favourites such as ‘Old Old Fashioned’ and ‘My Backwards Walk’ sit comfortably amongst recent songs ‘Dead Now’ and ‘State Hospital’, which take flight into the room-filling anthems they always had the potential to be.
Towards the end of the main set, the band leave Scott to perform a gut-wrenching rendition of the blood-letting ‘Poke’. Scott’s tender extended vocal refrains are echoed back at him softly from the crowd, deepening the intimate atmosphere. Guitarist Andy Monaghan joins him on slide for ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’, which sees the rest of the band return during the bridge. The audience are then engaged in a ‘human accordion’ experiment to ring in ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ before the band tear through PV opener ‘Acts of Man’, which culminates in a raging wall of sound and lights. The band return after a short break for mid-tempo rocker ‘The Woodpile’, kept on track by Grant Hutchison’s muscular, military drum beat. The band then tear through The Winter of Mixed Drinks standards ‘Living in Colour’ and ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’. The grins on the band’s face as they go for the home-run makes it clear that they are loving every minute of it, as the crowd roars the vocals back at them.
Aberdeen crowds are a notoriously fickle breed, but once you’ve won them over they’re yours for life. The deep affection of longtime followers is felt as old tunes are greeted with cheers and sing-a-longs. Early in the gig Scott reminisces about playing to ten people in Snafu (just a quarter of a mile down the road) early in the band’s life, and comments on how playing in the Music Hall felt unattainable. As the band leave the stage, Scott Hutchison lingers as the audience carries on the vocal refrain of ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’ (which carries on for a good few minutes after he has left as well). Grinning from ear to ear and clasping his head, he knows that they have definitely arrived.
Frightened Rabbit embark on a US tour on 8th March. Pedestrian Verse is available now through Atlantic.