[Live Review]: Frightened Rabbit, Music Hall, Aberdeen – 27/02/13

frabbits‘Is that you in front of me coming back for even more, exactly the same?’

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.

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This Is Happening: Farewell, One Up

‘You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.’

So here it is. It was one of those things that had been on the cards for a while now, but I guess I just didn’t want to be around to see it. Tomorrow evening, Thursday 31st January 2013, One Up on Belmont St. will close its doors for the final time. From a small stall in the late 70’s through various shop venues in the city centre, One Up has served the public of Aberdeen with the best in new music. But, unfortunately recent years have taken their toll and the shop announced its foreclosure mere hours after HMV went into administration.

When arriving in Aberdeen just over three years ago One Up was one of the first places I discovered that made me feel excited to be here. Compared to the small town I came from which had a small HMV that didn’t offer much variety from the standard fare, One Up felt like a place where you could actually discover music, both new and old, local and foreign. Fred and the gang were always friendly and knowledgeable, while I was often surprised by the goodies nestling in the shelves. It became a place to meet friends or duck into on payday. Inevitably when homesickness would set in, going in and browsing through the shelves always helped. Music has always been a coping mechanism for me so having a place to find it was a real comfort. Suffice to say, One Up made me feel more at home in Aberdeen.

Last one Up Purchase

Last One Up Purchase

When I went along recently, the shop felt a lot smaller with all the downstairs material shifted upstairs. The racks were barer, but the atmosphere was still positive as people came to support a store whose commitment to decent music has garnered them an appreciative customer base over the years. I’m not ashamed to say that I had a bit of a lump in my throat as I left the shop for what is probably the last time. It seems strange to have formed an emotional attachment to a shop and I guess I’m just a sentimentalist at heart, but over the years the shop has come to mean a lot to me.

So unfortunately, music retail in Aberdeen is not off to a good start 2013. With the imminent loss of One Up and HMV later, the only places left to buy new releases in Aberdeen will be supermarkets. Cavern Record Store on Belmont St. is still open, but as a 2nd hand vinyl store I’m not sure how much longer its admittedly niche appeal and loyal customers can keep it afloat. On a side note, I was also disheartened last year to hear of the closure announcement for Avalanche Records in Grassmarket, Edinburgh, another favourite haunt of mine when I’m in town. It’s a sad state of affairs. Also, the announcement that Aberdeen City Council are considering using the premises as their base for the Aberdeen City of Culture Office seems nothing short of opportunistic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice that the Council recognise the cultural significance One Up has had in Aberdeen and that it should be used for something positive and constructive, rather than another shop taking its place. However, the timing of the announcement just seems a bit insensitive and the phrase ‘dancing on your grave’ comes to mind. Not to mention the irony that the business rates set by the council have been a contributing factor for the foreclosure of many high street vendors, One Up included. You really can’t make this stuff up

But putting all of that negativity aside, I will always have fond memories of One Up. So go along while you still can and show your support for the best record shop I’ve ever been to. And thank you One Up, from the bottom of my heart, for all the pleasure you’ve given me these last few years and the people of Aberdeen since 1979. See you on the flip side.

One Up 2