The last time I saw Frightened Rabbit it was during their Highlands tour. It was in a small town in Skye called Portree, and they were playing to, at most, a couple of hundred people. We were a small group brought together by a mutual appreciation of a not-particularly-well-known Scottish folk / rock band – that or it was literally the ONLY thing to do in Portree that week. Anyway, they were brilliant. They came across as very earnest and genuine guys. The music was emotional and the delivery was on the soft side of things. It wasn’t mushy like a lot of ‘folk’ bands, but it certainly wasn’t going to offend the Free Presbyterians in the crowd.
This is not the same band I saw in The O2 Brixton last Friday. Jesus Christ! They have turned into a clonking stadium rock band! I can’t pretend to be totally surprised, though. It has been stewing. Having looked closely at Frightened Rabbits movements over the past couple of years I have seen the band develop into the force that they are now, and the transformation is startling. It is like seeing a shy child who gets teased at school start to go to the gym and then start a raging career as a man-eating wrestler. Where there may have been a few candles and some incense at one of their shows two years ago, you’ll now be exposed to epilepsy inducing periods of intense strobe treatment, four simultaneous electric guitars, bone shattering organ bass-lines, eye watering distortion and an overpowering sense of confidence. I have not been able to wipe the smile off my face for three days, and in the future I would like to take my hat off to the band before the starting of every meal.
The tone, bar, volume and scene was set in the first song, Holy - one of the more energetic songs from the latest record ‘Pedestrian Verse’. It was like the starting gun at the beginning of a race, and marked the commencing of, only once interrupted, hysteria in the crowd. I think that as a consequence of FR’s path as a band, they have gained a lot of fans that have been there all the way through, and feel a huge emotional connection with the band. This manifests itself in at-the-top-of-their-lungs adoration. Mix this with those who have joined the party with the last album (the one which is a lot rockier, and has been super-successful) and you have the makings of a pretty excitable hoard.
My favourite moment of the show was the performance of Backwards Walk. I think that it is their best song, and every bit of pain and feeling was allowed to come out on-stage.
At about halfway through the show Scott Hutchison (lead singer) was left alone on stage, and performed a couple unaccompanied. He then decided to unplug everything and play one without amplification. I have seen this done before, and it can be really effective. I have not seen it done in a venue this big. It was difficult. It turns out people are crap at not singing along, and that when you get 5000 people in one place, there will always be one bastard who can’t hold back a sneeze, or who HAS to tell his neighbour about how he got splashed by a lorry on the way there, or who loved crisps SO MUCH that they have to eat them right that moment. Anyway, it took some time to get everybody to pipe-down. This involved, poetically, an incredibly intimidating sounding Scottish man telling everybody to “Shut the fuck up you pricks”. Shut the fuck up you pricks we all did. This allowed the very patient Scott to perform Floating In The Forth. Thank god it worked. Our ringing ears were given a breather, a sublime few moments to take stock before the full band returned.
I am aware of a thing that FR do live. This is to make the ending of Acts of Man absolutely massive. On this basis I thought that they would play it last. They didn’t. It came before the encore, but it was even bigger than I was expecting. It was so loud, so prolonged, so heavy and so good that I think we were all left slightly wobbly.
They came back after this and played an encore that culminated with The Loneliness. It is a song that encourages crowd participation to a level very rarely possible. We all sang the catchy chorus riff throughout the song and were left singing after the band had left the stage.
It is an amazing thing to see a band that you have loved for years and years become big. When Frightened Rabbit released Sing The Greys, and later The Midnight Organ Fight, they were a little-known Scottish band that had a small number of enlightened fans. The people that liked them absolutely loved them, but they were not large in number. Since releasing Pedestrian Verse, and in the last year, they aren’t that band anymore. They’re big. They have a BIG number of fans. They sound BIG. Their onstage presence is BIG and I think that this is exactly the way things are going to continue to go. Rarely have I felt that a band deserve it more. There is no modern music-industry twattery about the music that they make. It is good sounding, thoughtful and honest. The live performance is an extension of this. They turned up to the biggest show of their career and they absolutely smashed it.