Let me say at the outset that this is the reason I (1) go to shows and (2) blog about them. The Owl John concert at the Echo not only reminded me of how great live music can be, but also nourished me in the way only an amazing gig can achieve. Also, I'm fully feeling the Frightened Rabbit heart sickness again. Watch out, world!
Owl John, the Echo, June 19, 2014: Last time I was at the Echo, it was known as the Echo Lounge and it was a little less polished than it stood today. The previous gig was great, and this one lived up to those standards too, though in a different way.
For those of you who follow Frightened Rabbit and/or Owl John on Twitter and/or Instagram, you may have noticed photos of recording sessions in Laurel Canyon popping up in the past few months. Perhaps you, like me, wondered what music was being recorded. After all, Frightened Rabbit had finished their tour not long ago and it seemed premature to expect new material from them so quickly. It took a while for word to leak of the Owl John record. But even with that tidbit, it was hard to know what to expect. I think we had one track to go on -- but honestly, I didn't need that track to check out this tour.
Scott must've read our minds because he answered that very question almost at the outset. He explained that the Owl John album was supposed to be finished by then, but it didn't quite come together -- so we could expect to hear a bunch of old Frightened Rabbit songs. Oh, the hardship!
Playing solo electric guitar, Scott transformed Frightened Rabbit favorites in ways I didn't expect. He opened with "Old Old Fashioned," slow and stretched out, minus the square-dance stomp we know so well. Lately, I've been thinking I'd love to put it on a mix tape next to anything from Wilco's Being There, but this version was a treat too. Then again, you'd have to work pretty hard to screw it up.
Scott asked for requests, but he admitted he was just waiting for a song he was going to play anyway. Of course, a ton of old, obscure tracks were called out, but Scott admitted that the first album was only OK. Also, he couldn't remember a lot of them anyway. Still, we got some great B-sides, including "Fuck This Place" and "Scottish Winds."
I'm not sure Frightened Rabbit has any hits in the United States, so we American fans might be well-suited to hear whatever Scott wanted to play, but certain tracks will always percolate to the top. You're almost guaranteed to hear "My Backwards Walk" and "The Twist," but I wouldn't say the others were entirely expected -- which is not to say they weren't welcome. For example, "Oil Slick" surfaced, and as I've stated before, it's emerged as a favorite from Pedestrian Verse, but I'm a sucker for songs that use music as an analogy (see: many, many Wilco song). The dark-horse track might've been "Floating in the Forth," which was pretty and lovely.
Along the way, Scott also indulged in raconteur mode. For example, he revealed that "The Wrestle" was not, in fact, about fighting a shark. Rather, the topic was fucking (his word) -- which should come as no surprise to anyone who's listened to the lyrics on Midnight Organ Fight. He also revealed that one song was sort of stolen from an Eagle Eye Cherry track and he kind of channeled a character from Family Guy for another song. Due to my lack of knowledge on either topic, I can't confirm these claims.
I love L.A. shows, and I think the city gets a bad rep for obnoxious crowds. I suppose if you go to trendy gigs, you'll run into your share of scenesters and industry folks. Overall, that hasn't been my experience, and I suspect a lot of the people who buy the tickets are regular folks driving in from the deep suburbs to see their favorite musicians. Beyond that, L.A. gigs have a lot more going for them. For one thing, there are so many to choose from! But one unique element came up at this show.
Sure, you've heard the stories about people moving to Los Angeles for their acting, writing, dancing, music, what have you career. Make of that what you will, but there's an unexpected benefit to their presence. Sometimes, they contribute to a show, and they sound great.
At this Owl John gig, we first heard it on the fifth track, "Holy," when the crowd started clapping spontaneously to the beat of the song. We (ha!) sounded so good that Scott stopped to compliment us and get a dig in at his brother at the same time. This continued for other songs, reaching a peak with "The Loneliness and the Scream," which was just about as good as the full-band version.
Let me clarify: Nothing will beat the full-band version as a sensory tsunami, but with only Scott's guitar to accompany us, our clapping and yelling enjoyed the spotlight -- and we delivered.
Do you have a favorite song with a particular riff that fills you with anticipation and makes you want to scream as you wait for it to hit? Maybe a riff inspires a Pavlovian response in you, moving you to jump around, bellow from your innermost core, punch the person next to you? Off the top of my head, "Laminated Cat" by Loose Fur does that for me, as does any Jon Brion performance of "Heroes" -- and the same goes for "The Loneliness and the Scream." Those four little notes get me every time, and that song is guaranteed to plant itself into my brain for at least a week after any live performance. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep that night and woke up the next morning still humming the melody and tapping my foot to the rhythm. I love almost every song Scott and/or Frightened Rabbit plays, but I need "The Loneliness and the Scream." Otherwise, it isn't a gig to me. Fortunately, both Scott and the band have obliged every time.
As an audience, our other achievement might've involved the final song, "Keep Yourself Warm," where we sang almost as beautifully as that hometown crowd I've already referenced in a previous blog post. I hope it felt good for Scott because I'm pretty sure it felt great for us.
I should mention Scott played two new songs off the forthcoming record, and the industry aspect reared its head when an audience member requested an unreleased tune. I can't describe the songs, except to say I look forward to their official drop date.
Scott also told us he was now a resident of Los Angeles and, encouraged by the response at the Echo, hoped to do a lot more of these solo gigs in the near future. I, for one, welcome him to the best coast. There's a lot to like here.
Owl John in California
» Santa Cruz: give me soft, soft static
» San Francisco: her heart beats like a breezeblock
» lots to do with magnets and the pull of the moon
» there is light but there's a tunnel to crawl through