This concert report was supposed to have been accompanied by a write-up of Frightened Rabbit's gig in Sacramento. Alas, that didn't work out, and my quest to see this hard-working and well-traveled band in a tertiary market has been foiled again. Lucky for me they're drawn back to San Francisco time and time again, on this occasion landing at the Warfield.
Frightened Rabbit, the Warfield, September 30, 2013: I was a borderline basket case after Frightened Rabbit's last show in town. I didn't want to hear a note from any other band, I was YouTubing their performances like a maniac, and the search for live material took up a significant segment of my day. I may have also attempted (oh god) to mimic their accents when singing certain songs. I was, in essence, my 12-year-old self, if the same technology had been available when I was growing up.
My ardor cooled slightly in the intervening six months, probably for the better; those levels aren't sustainable. In addition, it was an emotional weekend, with the end of the Giants' baseball season and of Breaking Bad descending on the same day. As a matter of fact, I almost forgot my ticket at home on the morning of the gig, which goes to show you where my mind had wandered. The awesome thing about music, though, is that it takes a mere riff to snap your thoughts back in place, and a few days on from the concert, I've returned to that semi-weepy state at the sweep of "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms" or "Swim Until You Can't See Land" -- neither of which were even played at the show.
The band opened with "Holy," as they did back in March, but in the bigger venue, the effect wasn't quite as foreboding, as the smoke and fog dissipated into the high ceilings. One song in, and Scott was already talking to us about his pre-show nap and its accompanying effect, comparing himself to a newborn baby pulled out of the darkness and emerging as the center of attention. Er, look for a track titled "Siesta Rebirth" on the next Frightened Rabbit album?
In fact, Scott was in a talkative mood tonight. Also early in the show, he shared a story about some assholes in Calgary who requested "The Twist" all night because the song was playing when they crashed their boat. I'll give you a second to suppress the wave of nausea surely washing over you right now.
Later, he professed his love for Game of Thrones, but anyone who follows Frightened Rabbit's Twitter feed already knows of that obsession. He also promised to play a lot of songs, as this would be their last tour for a little while, which is always bittersweet news when you're smitten with a band. Logically, you know it's good and necessary, especially if you want to hear new music from the group, but selfishly, you want them to play your town, say, once a quarter (trying not to be selfish here).
Overall, the band stuck with the core setlist that's characterized most of the last year of shows, highlighting tracks from Pedestrian Verse but with a number of unexpected additions. One of those surprises came early, as they rolled out "Music Now" from Sing the Greys, though Scott couldn't count himself among the fans of that record. The band did it anyway, a relatively simple and straightforward track compared to the emotional epics they're better known for these days.
A few songs later, Scott, Grant, and Gordon gathered onstage for a new song, the aforementioned Game of Thrones-inspired track. Scott offered another glimpse into his thought processes as he explained how the machinations depicted on the show could be inspirational, moving you to go for what you want -- minus the violence (and dragons?), of course. I'm not sure how the lovely acoustic "Candlelit" would go over in Westeros, but at the Warfield, it was a haunting showcase of their harmonies and songwriting. (Note: I've never watched Game of Thrones.)
Scott was left on his own for his acoustic segment, this time comprising three whole songs instead of the single track we heard at the Fillmore. Scott asked for requests to kick off, but as expected, the actual song titles were buried in a barrage of voices. A new friend managed to get in "Poke" at exactly the right moment. Scott heard it and jumped in, but there was no way he wasn't going to do that song, for good reason. It's an all-time classic track with great bones: a deceptively simple melody, pinpoint lyrics, and candid delivery. As long as people have their hearts broken, "Poke" will enjoy its spot on playlists the world over. Afterward, Scott remarked it may have been his favorite performance of the song yet. Perhaps he says that in a lot of towns, but as with most of Frightened Rabbit's music, I'm willing to accept the sincerity.
The second song was all Scott, as he chose "Scottish Winds," giving away the band's homesickness. The acoustic set concluded with "Late March, Death March," a much more spontaneous selection and a performance that convinced me to revisit the tune.
I'm loathe to dictate a band's setlist (a la the assholes in Calgary), but by the same token, I really want to hear certain songs. With Frightened Rabbit, "Fast Blood" is one of them, and I was elated by its return to the setlist, orgasmic entendres and all. In fact, those older songs continue to mesmerize: "The Modern Leper," "My Backwards Walk," "Old Old Fashioned," to name a few. Now I can add "State Hospital" and "Oil Slick" among others to that list. "Oil Slick" in particular has snuck up on me; with its slinky guitar and rising coda, it'd be a huge pop hit in my alternate universe.
The band closed with the trifecta of "The Woodpile," "Keep Yourself Warm," and "The Loneliness and the Scream." With "Keep Yourself Warm," Scott explained how they were trying not to play it for a year, but eventually gave in -- a smart move. It's a favorite for a reason, not least because of the blunt sexual imagery and searing, highly repeatable lines ("You won't find love in a hole" and "It takes more than fucking someone/to keep yourself warm"), and it never fails to inspire a visceral response in the audience. There's an amazing video on YouTube of the crowd doing all the work for Scott in an intimate hometown show; I don't think we get anywhere near the Scottish fans' connection, but every time I've seen the band, we make a decent effort.
I kind of want to go into an extended treatise on the song's shift from a hymn to a highland wail to an anthem to a disco track (a similarly dancey beat takes over in the last third of "The Twist," by the way), only to double back on itself, but I'm not qualified to do so. I also want to remark that the brothers' bond might be one of the reasons the drums and percussion more prominently anchor the band's songs as opposed to other acoustic/songwriter-based setups, but that too is beyond my abilities. However, I will note that tonight in the instrumental apex of the song, Scott quoted from the song itself and not another artist's work, unlike at previous shows.
Speaking of visceral tracks, "The Loneliness and the Scream" was the closer I wanted to hear, mostly for the screaming part. That song is pure release, whether you're tuned into the driving rhythm or the echoing calls. The opening band the Augustines returned to the stage to shout and drum and hug and jump and drink -- all completely valid reactions to this powerhouse.
Before I finish up, I need to note a few more aspects to this show. The Warfield was perhaps half full for this show; the floor was brimming with fans, but not uncomfortably so, while the balcony was at a fraction of capacity. You can point to several reasons why: This was the band's third visit (by my count) to San Francisco in less than 12 months, there was no real new material to promote, it was a Monday night, and this is a heavy concert season. The turnout didn't seem to faze the band, but it did make me wonder where the new fans will come from next.
For instance, Frightened Rabbit just toured with the National, but I've heard barely a peep about the reaction to the openers. Heck, I'm guilty of the same (I don't really have time to write about the Augustines, except to say that I've never seen anyone so happy to play the Warfield as the lead singer, who grew up in the area), but a part of me was hoping they'd get a little more recognition for all their time on the road. With a solid fan base, a new record, and (one hopes) growing exposure, Frightened Rabbit will surely fill up the Warfield -- or better yet, do two shows at the Fillmore -- eventually, but tonight's gig served as a reminder to keep expectations intact. I've seen enough U.K. bands unable to gain a foothold in the United States that the sight of a underpopulated hall gives me pause.
Finally, I managed to be one of the 20 fans who ordered tickets fast enough to get into the meet and greet before the show. We ended up watching about 40 minutes of the soundcheck, which was simultaneously cool and banal, as is the case with most soundchecks. The actual meeting and greeting followed, and I can't stress enough how lovely they were to everyone. I realize it's not the most natural environment, but the band was nothing short of humble and gracious. I actually left while most of the fans were still there, and I have no idea how much longer they stayed. My earlier question about where the fans will come from? This wasn't a bad way to sew up the faithful.
To the Scots: Please come back soon, as often as you'd like. For anyone else who might be reading: This is a band to treasure.
Thanks to the contributors at setlist.fm for their work on the setlist for the Warfield show.
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