Frightened Rabbit

Warpaint @ Lustre Pearl [unofficial day show] Lustre Pearl, a converted house just blocks away from the Austin Convention Center (and right behind an IHOP), might’ve been my favorite venue of the week. The building, tucked behind a rusty fence (the pic above was taken while I stood in line), is small, just a few rooms, one taken over by a bar, but the backyard area is huge, and complete with taco truck. The delight of finding a Brooklyn Lager (a sentimental choice) went nicely with the delight of finding Warpaint absofuckinglutely amazing. They were good at Sam Bond’s last year. They were superb in the middle of the afternoon in Austin, creating a dense, precise wash of sound, winding vocals in and out with such ease that it seemed like the music just hung there, undulating, in the middle of the sprawling white tent. I can’t remember songs. I can’t remember how many there were, or which they played, or if they were the ones I wanted to hear. It wasn’t that kind of show. It was like a big aural vacuum: You’re sucked in, you live in it, and then it’s over and nothing that comes next is going to be quite as good.

I nommed a fantastic taco and split after four Rogue Wave songs. I love Rogue Wave as much as the next pop-harmony sucker, but my magical spell had been all busted up and I wanted to be somewhere else.

Frightened Rabbit @ Mess With Texas [non-SXSW awesome minifestival] Standing in line for the Mess With Texas fest, a delightful bit of counterprogramming that I would commit unpleasant acts to have happen in Eugene, I heard Billy Bragg, and I cursed whatever bit of timing had made me arrive when I did, and not half an hour earlier. Bragg broke into “A New England” and I got goosebumps; is there a more plaintive, honest love-longed-for song? Could it be sung in a better voice than Bragg’s haunting, slightly creaky British tones? The answer you’re looking for is “No.”

The FRabbits were lovely and the crowd was huge and the sound was imperfect. I stood in the back, too close to a tent in which the curious, mostly women, were perching on a Harley-Davidson and revving the shit out of it. You can see how that might affect the mood. But I'd watch Frightened Rabbit through just about anything.

Jenny Owen Youngs @ Live Create Lounge The Live Create Lounge was well-stocked with free nutrional bars, phone chargers and overpriced beer. I took appropriate advantage of each and watched Youngs, who looks like a poster girl from the ’60s and sings like it’s as easy as breathing. Her pop-folk songs tend to the catchy and disconcertingly sweet-sounding, with an underlying steeliness, and she deserved to play to a bigger, more attentive crowd.

Anya Marina @ Maggie Mae’s I was curious about two things: Marina with a band, and the venue in which she was playing, with its multiple levels and slightly confusing staircases. Marina with band was fine, but unexpectedly lackluster, despite her perky, “fuck”-dotted stange banter; I think she’s got more personality than is showing through in her songs. Maggie Mae’s offered a nice vantage point from which to look down on Sixth Street, where the crowds had yet to reach their full nighttime density.

Patrick Stump @ Dirty Dog Bar Stump practically snuck onto the stage; there was no fanfare, and if some people didn’t immediately recognize the Fall Out Boy singer, newly shorn and less more than a few pounds, it seemed likely he liked it that way. (“Hi. I’m Patrick,” was all he offered as introduction.) But there was an off-kilter feel to his five-song performance. He tore around the stage for the first song, getting loops going with each instrument, proving himself a capable musician, but when the song finally settled in, there just wasn’t much to it: a bit of funk, that soulful vocal delivery, and what else? It wasn’t just Stump’s feverish uncertainty — which suits him when it’s in the lyrics; one song trades “This is my confession” for “I’ve got nothing to confess” in a matter of seconds — it was the nagging feeling that maybe these tunes (unrecorded, he said) weren’t ready for their close-up just yet. Operative word there being "yet."

Les Savy Fav @ Galaxy Room Backyard At one in the morning, those that aren’t wearing out are getting wearing on those that are. You follow me? Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington was as cuckoo as ever — was that a Wild Things costume he was wearing at first? — tearing about the stage, fucking with the lights, ripping up glowsticks, all that jazz, but something was missing. Penultimate SXSW night blues? The general lack of movement in the crowd? Everyone woke up for “Patty Lee,” which mustered up a bit of a singalong. It went like this: “Back before Babylon,” Harrington roared, and fans joined in, “SHIT WAS COOL!” This was almost as awkward — and equally entertaining — as when crowds sing along with Cursive’s self-aware songs about being self-aware dudes in a self-aware band.

PhotobucketJaguar Love at the Ghost Room, 3/18

The first day of SXSW's music track was also St. Patrick's Day. Whether this made a difference in anything but the amount of green seen on Sixth Street, the festival's main drag, I'm not quite sure; the street overflows with drunken revelers every night of SXSW. Before long, however, the main topic of discussion was a bit more somber: By that night, the news was out that Big Star's Alex Chilton had passed away. The Big Star show scheduled for Saturday night would go on as a tribute and memorial. But there were plenty of other things to do before then.

Miles Kurosky @ Red Eyed Fly [unofficial day show] If the name Miles Kurosky means nothing to you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because that means you missed out on the bittersweetly joyous jangle of Beulah, the late-‘90s/early-‘00s band for which Kurosky was the singer. Despite it being the middle of the afternoon and there being more people onstage than seemed comfortable, a slightly nervous-looking Kurosky made new fans and charmed the old with a mix of songs from his new solo record — and a few much-missed Beulah favorites. I’ve never been more happy to see a trumpet player as when Kurosky, muttering something about how they had a trumpet player, they might as well use him, broke into “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand.”

Goodness knows, it’s been a wonderful run...

I’ve not had a chance to listen to the new record but what I heard in Austin was just what I wanted to hear: Kurosky’s perfectly ordinary voice still blends with bright guitars and, yes, trumpets — among other things — as timelessly as it ever has. This guy makes songs that could fit on a mix-tape from any era in my life. There’s a magic that happens when the usual rock lineup transforms through superb songwriting into something so expansive. Go back and listen to When Your Heartstrings Break. You won’t be disappointed.

(Keep reading: Frightened Rabbit, Anya Marina, Jaguar Love and more...)

You know what's hard to come by during Musicfest NW? Time. Time to do anything like, say, blog. There's plenty of time to stand around impatiently as the band before your favorite band seems to play forever and you're stuck sweating and trying to sip a beer slowly, but when Frightened Rabbit goes on at 12:30 in the morning (in theory) and you, as a result, sleep in so late you almost miss lunch, well, shit, my friends, you run out of time.

What isn't hard to come by in this town is a surprisingly high number of people who look vaguely familiar. I got a familiarity nod from at least two random dudes last night; I think I smiled at someone I didn't actually know at least once or twice. Everyone looks like someone else. Except this one really tall guy at the Frightened Rabbit show. He was his own man.

Thursday, in brief:

• I skipped The Helio Sequence in part because I was bitter that James Mercer was no longer the opening act; Dr. Dog was. I got enough Dr. Dog at Pickathon, thanks; that's just not my cup of tea. I do slightly regret this decision.

• Tu Fawning: Portiscarnival. (Look, "Portishead" already seems like a really random line of syllables, and thus I think Portiscarnival is perfectly reasonable as a description.) This is not in any way meant as an insult. There are catchy slivers jabbed into the Tu Fawning sound, but mostly it's too arty for that, too disconcerting and strange and occasionally really pretty. And fascinating. The festival writeup desribed Tu Fawning as "Never boring, and at moments inspired," which sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, but I don't think it is. The band's music isn't the sort of thing you get attached to, but a thing you experience; it elicits a response more intellectual than emotional, except when it suddenly pings a heartstring or two.

• We Were Promised Jetpacks: Young, slightly burly Scotsmen with energy to spare. Like seemingly every Scottish band, they have a song about keeping warm (this one's called "Keeping Warm," and there's a Frightened Rabbit song called "Keep Yourself Warm," and I swear there's also an Idlewild song on the topic). WWPJ's fairly conventional guitar-centric indie rock felt like the kind of thing you need to know before you see them, so that you're bringing your own memories and associations to the songs, of what they call to mind when you're listening to them at home alone in the dark or barreling down the freeway on the way home from a show. But even as a first listen, they were promising. And charming, too. Darn Scots.

(I did not see Girl Talk at the Roseland because I saw Girl Talk on Wednesday at the McDonald, and I do not think I've recovered yet. But it was a delightful sweaty, sticky mess of Bananarama! Metallica! Mary J. Blige! Journey! Cyndi Lauper! Kelly Clarkson! Eight thousand other songs you barely have time to recognize! Girls with glowsticks and dudes with headbands! Don't like this tune? Wait 30 seconds; it'll change. And then change again.)

• The Twilight Sad proved that not all Scottish bands are unbelievable charming. The band plays reasonable, dense, heavily Joy Division-influenced rock, light on dynamics and high on repetition, but as a live act they lacked stage presence. They also overran their time, and when you're waiting to see a band that goes on after midnight, you sometimes run out of patience. I was getting there.

• Frightened Rabbit: This is the third time I've seen Frightened Rabbit in Portland, and it made me a touch nostalgic for those earlier, less crowded Holocene shows. The trouble with seeing a favorite band in a festival setting is that you have to share them with people who don't really care, who are just there because they read an interesting description in the program or who came with a friend (of course, you also wind up being that person at another show or several). It changes the audience dynamic in peculiar ways. This crowd seemed to like the Rabbit well enough — and they were certainly just as good as they have been, even without singer Scott Hutchison's solo acoustic version of "Poke," which hushed everyone in Holocene last November — but the show lacked the charged atmosphere their shows have had before.

But to be fair, the band's been touring on Midnight Organ Fight for ages, and Hutchison mentioned from the stage that they've finished (I believe) their follow-up. If they seemed a tiny bit less invested in the old songs, the ones they've been playing for ages and ages now — if Hutchison was rarely sticking to the recorded vocal melodies, instead dancing around them, mixing things up — it's understandable. The show was sort of a tease, I think: Two new songs and a sense of impatience. More, now, please.

Tonight: A vicious lineup pits The Jealous Sound and Sunny Day Real Estate at the Crystal Ballroom against Say Hi and Rocky Votolato at Berbati's Pan. I think Rocky's gonna win this fight, at least where I'm concerned, but so long as I make it to the "official afterparty" with The Thermals, I'll be more than happy.

PS: The Portland Mercury's End Hits blog's Twitter feed (technology, you're making me use too many words) speaks truth about Frightened Rabbit: "The only thing that could make this Frightened Rabbit show better is if people danced on the Dante's catwalks. Like an emo sinferno."

No, it hasn't been that long since I last saw Frightened Rabbit at Holocene and blogged a little about it; yes, it's still worth seeing the Rabbit every single time you possibly can. I mean that. Even though it's taken me a week to say so.

Last week's show was my present to myself: Best of Eugene is done! Over! Finished for another year! Time to celebrate with one of Holocene's delicious old-fashioneds — best made by the guy with the mustache — and my current favorite Scottish band (yeah, I used to have a thing for Idlewild. So? Maybe I still do). And so I drove up Thursday, ate at Patanegra (good, though not astonishing; perhaps we ordered the wrong things) with my pops and headed eastwards to what's rapidly creeping up the list to hang out with the Wonder Ballroom as one of my favorite Portland venues.

With all due respect to Blue Skies for Black Hearts, I wished a little that we got a repeat of the last show's opening band. But I was there for the Rabbit, and they delivered. I was wary of the night; I was alone, and there were two girls next to me in giant giraffe costumes which, while cute and clever, were doubtless blocking the view of those folks not quite eager enough to stand in the very front, staring up at Scott Hutchison and company. But the fact is that it doesn't have to matter. It doesn't matter who you're with or how self-conscious you are about the fact that your current OMGILOVETHIS band is playing that song, the one you can't stand still for or get goosebumps for every time. It just mattes that you're there, and they're playing all your favorites — nearly everything from The Midnight Organ Fight, I think — and that it's fucking perfect, or as close to as can be expected.

There's no single thing about Frightened Rabbit that makes them stand out, no musical genius or extreme prolificness or astonishing past. If anything, what they have going for them is human-sized and modest: the relationship between singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison and the drummer, his brother Grant; a contained anthemic power that turns ditties like "Old Old Fashioned" into miniature manifestos and songs like "Head Rolls Off" into something inexplicably compelling and inspiring; and the sheer nakedness of the lyrics. People always say that about really good, really lovelorn lyrics, but that doesn't make it any less true, or any less meaningful. A friend told me recently that when he was on the phone in a van, breaking up with his girlfriend, his bandmates put on Frightened Rabbit, and I immediately understood how totally wrong that was. You don't lock this band in to a precise feeling, a specific moment, like that. You let them describe all the possibilities that heartache and rawness can bring.

And when they do it best, it's simple, easy, wrenching and true. At the very end of the set, everyone left the stage but Scott. He walked to the edge of the stage (I admit to momentarily wishing I had my camera), closed his eyes, began to play his guitar and, without a microphone, broke into "Poke." This is what it looked like in Los Angeles a few days later:

Everyone went silent. No one moved; no one sang along. They saved that for the next and last song, which (if memory serves, and I think it does) was "Keep Yourself Warm," a perfect set-closer in the way it shrinks in on itself and explodes into a strange glorious moment at the end. But at the song's quietest moments, you could hear Portlanders singing along, softly, quietly, in tune.

I only stayed for a few songs of The Spinto Band. They were adorable, they were good, the singer looked like a more indie rock Michael Cera, if that's possible, and I'm sure at some point I'll regret not staying to see their whole set, just like I regret not lurking just a little longer to see if a merch guy would appear and sell me that damn supercute Frightened Rabbit T-shirt I can't find online anywhere. But I'd had my moment. I was done.

Still. I hope I have it again soon.

Photobucket
Photo by David Gourley

So, yeah, I'm a little late with this one. If I don't blog about something the same night, it can be a while. But today I walked (about) a mile in four-inch (I think) heels to pick up my copy of Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight from House of Records, and that seems to call for a blog post. Right? Though I have so many good things to say about this night that I'm not sure where to begin. Perhaps bullet points are in order:

• Holocene: Gorgeous. Lately, every time I go to a new venue in Portland, I love it better than the last new venue — though the Wonder Ballroom may still own my heart. I fell for Hawthorne Theater's layout, where the drinking oldies and the kids are on the same floor with the bar in the middle, and now for Holocene's several-room setup. Cement floors, new white walls, the bar in a different room than the stage, a fantastic old-fashioned in hand: brilliance (though for the record, no one should ever make a Sazerac with Ten High. I'm just sayin').

• Ulterior motive: I had one. An old friend I hadn't seen in five years is the bassist for the Rabbit's tourmates, Oxford Collapse, and somehow I'd never seen this band of his play before. It's always funny to see people you know on stage. As my companion aptly put it, "In a band of crazies, he's the craziest." Yes. And "Please Visit Your National Parks" is still the best Collapse song, so go find an MP3. I believe there's one here. While you're there, grab the Rabbit's "Heads Roll Off" and "The Modern Leper," mmmkay?

• Listening to people in the know: A good idea. Years ago, I learned a valuable lesson: When Chris Newmyer is really into a band, pay attention. Even if he tells you, say, that Les Savy Fav's name means "the tight pant wearers." It was my loss that I didn't see Les Savy Fav sooner, and when he started hitting his mailing list with all kinds of Frightened Rabbit stuff, my ears, um — while speaking (in a way) of bunnies, this is so lame — perked up.

Another FR fan is Pitchfork Senior News Editor Amy Phillips, whom I suspect is the coolest person at Pitchfork. About FR, she wrote, "I can't explain why this band's jangly, anthemic indie pop hits me harder than everybody else's jangly, anthemic indie pop, or why such terrible-on-paper lyrics as 'you're the shit and I'm knee-deep in it' and 'it takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm,' sung by a guy who sounds like the twee Scottish version of Adam Duritz, come across as so profound. I just don't know. But it works. I can't stop listening to this album." Exactly.

• Oh, right. About the show. Four unassuming Scottish men, at least two of them in plaid shirts (and one with Jack White's hair), take the stage. Portland, or this tiny slice of it (though the show is well-attended), greets them happily. They proceed to be awesome. It really is sort of hard to explain, but it is anthemic indie pop with lyrics that waver all over the damn place; I'm a big fan of the phrase, "I'll make tiny changes to earth," but not so much of that fucking line quoted above (though it is followed by "I'm drunk / and I'm drunk, and you're probably on pills / and if we've both got the same diseases / it's irrelevant, girl!" which is better, in a bleak sort of way). My companion and I yell back and forth: "They're kind of like Snow Patrol, if Snow Patrol was actually indie rock." "Yeah, Snow Patrol of the streets." Um.

But there's something about these guys. Really. The drummer's constant motion is hypnotic; the singer has his eyes closed a lot; the wall of distortion has just the right density, and it builds in all the right place. It takes half a dozen songs for us to realize there's no bass. Nothing is missing. Someone requests "The Twist" and it's beautiful and it all feels like a scene in a movie when someone's making a really bad decision but you know they're going to enjoy it — at least for a little while. It's a soundtrack to falling in love with the wrong person, sometimes, and other times it's a blanket of yearning settling heavily on your shoulders. And sometimes it's the charm of the moderately tough looking drummer singing the funny little "woo-oot-woot" in "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms." Every so often, I get goosebumps, for no reason whatsoever. And some Portlanders actually sort of move around a little. Fancy that.

They should be your new favorite band. They really should. Here's the disarmingly charming video for "Heads Fall Off" to help convince you (I'd say this is their most Snow Patrolly song):

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