Listening to Frightened Rabbit’s second album, Midnight Organ Fight, when it hit back in 2008 was like discovering a whole new flavor of Starburst. The sound seemed familiar with its folkish overtones meets synthy indie rock. Yet, the recording’s vibe is aggressively raw, endearingly rough, and satisfyingly unpredictable featuring clattering drums holding up all the rhythm (at that stage the Hutchison brothers who founded Frightened Rabbit had not hired a bassist), and a ton of bloody, self-deprecating energy. The vocals, drenched with Scottish accent, convey desperation and passion, albeit with some degree of whimsy and levity. In short, the Midnight Organ Fight will stay with me for a long time. Since then, Frightened Rabbit has crafted three more albums; one good (The Winter of Mixed Drinks), the other great (Pedestrian Verse), but neither have captured me like Midnight Organ Fight – and they shouldn’t – the album is a bonafide classic. The band’s latest effort, Painting of a Panic Attack, is definitely a solid effort and offers a collection of grandstanding anthems (most notably “I Wish I Was Sober” and “Break”) that will make for invigorating summertime listens (right alongside the new Beyoncé album!).
The new Frightened Rabbit tunes also make for outstanding contributions to the band’s live set, as exemplified through a recent Sunday evening show at the Ogden Theater in Denver. Frightened Rabbit’s stage presence is just as beautifully clunky and inelegant as their songs, and they wasted no time getting started by quickly churning through their opener and second single from the new album, “Get Out,” after which singer Scott Hutchison, referring to the span of years between 2013’s, Pedestrian Verse and the new album (and subsequent tour), commented, “it’s about time, right?” And then joked “many of you probably found yourselves at a 1975 show recently, thinking, what the fuck I am doing here!”
Such is exactly that kind of confessional sense of humor often finding expression in Hutchinson’s lyrics that has become so enduring to Frightened Rabbit’s fans. Here are some good examples of his highly amusing, self-deprecating banter from the show.
Recognizing Frightened Rabbit would never match the critical success of Midnight Organ Fight, the singer commented, “just imagine if someone told you that you will never be as good at 34 as you were at 22.”
Later in the set and having heard several song requests from fans positioned near the stage, Hutchison chided, “you must not go to many concerts – there is this thing called a set list, and we usually stick with it. We have a lot of fucking songs. If I tried to play that one I would definitely fuck it up!”
Hutchison’s potty-mouthed playfulness aside, the strengths of Frightened Rabbit live rests in that many of the band’s best compositions are straight up designed to be performed live. That certainly goes for the greatest tunes of Midnight Organ Fight (those who have heard the live album released in 2008, Quietly Now! know what I mean), particularly the aggressive dueling between acoustic guitar and bass of the folk tune “Old Old Fashion” and the exposed emotionality of “Keep Yourself Warm” (the performance of these tunes served up the one-two, punch before the encore break). Yet, much of the newer material stood up to the highs reached from the back catalogue. Favorites of mine were renditions of the anthemic tune “Break” (Hutchison even seemed genuinely surprised with the audience’s rousing response to the song) and the standout tune from Pedestrian Verse, “The Woodpile” featured as the lead-up to the show’s closer.
The onset of the encore found Hutchison alone on stage with an acoustic guitar honoring the recent passing of Prince with an abbreviated version of “Purple Rain” blending into a pleasing performance of “Die Like a Rich Boy” from the new album. The band finished the set with the fantastic song from The Winter of Mixed Drinks, “The Loneliness and the Scream,” after which the band rumbled out of the show facing a barrage of audience hand claps with the same clunky and inelegant manner as when they rolled in.
Nate Jones is middle-aged, rapidly balding man with chronic bad breath who writes about culture, identity politics, and sometimes music. His published work includes pieces in Ready Player None: A Ready Player One Fanzine, Old White Dudes’ Quarterly, various want ads seeking vintage Atari 2600 cartridges, and his blog entitled “My Heaven is 1973.”