Frightened Rabbit live at St John-at-Hackney.
Scottish indie folk quintet Frightened Rabbit are back. Three years since their last album, and a year in the making, Painting Of A Panic Attack was released Friday 8th April 2016. And with The National Producer Aaran Dessner’s input, it’s clear there’s life in the old rabbit yet.
The band started life in Selkirk in 2003 as a solo project for lead vocalist, guitarist and song writer Scott Hutchison, named after a nickname his mother gave him as a child because of his chronic shyness. Over the years the original Frightened Rabbit has become something more of a Watership Down, the first to swell the outfit was Scott’s brother, noisy and talented drummer and backing vocalist Grant Hutchison who joined Scott back in 2004, followed shortly after by Billy Kennedy and Andy Monaghan, both on bass guitar and keyboards, with Billy also covering backing vocals. Simon Liddell on guitar is the most recent addition, the multi layering of some of the Rabbit’s material requiring more strings to their bow.
Frightened Rabbit have long attracted something of a cult following, and whilst early albums, in particular Midnight Organ Fight, are much revered by fans, the band only really started to creep into national consciousness with the release of 4th album Pedestrian Verse in 2013, which reached number 9 in the UK album chart. The Rabbits are back on tour testing out the new material, and I managed to catch them at their sole sell-out London gig in East London’s church-cum-gig venue St John at Hackney.
Inside, the waiting fans are clutching their beer cans and peering into the haze in the packed church as the Rabbits come out and get straight into Get Out, second track on the new album and already released as a single. A typically bittersweet Frightened Rabbit tune about addictive love being unhealthy and wonderful at the same time, it gets the crowd nicely warmed up. After checking everyone is ‘alright’ and thanking us for coming out, they launch into the more raucous Holy from previous album Pedestrian Verse.
The crowd warmed up still more when they realised that what followed this was Modern Leper, an old favourite from album Midnight Organ Fight. Scott then rather shyly announced the new album, and followed with two of its tracks back-to-back, Woke Up Hurting and I Wish I Was Sober, joking before the latter as he swigged from his beer can that ‘it’s not coffee, it’s tea……….with methadone in it’.
The set continued with a mix of favourites from previous albums, with the occasional new album track slotted in between, Break going down particularly well. Back to old classic Head Rolls Off, and Scott announced ‘Very much looking forward to playing this one, please forgive me’ and raised his eyes to heaven in a good natured nod to the venue before singing the first line ‘Jesus is just a Spanish boys name / How come one man got so much fame’.
Upbeat desolation is what Frightened Rabbit do best, and don’t they do it well. Scott’s incredibly poetic lyrics don’t shy from the darker musings of the more unsavoury aspects of the human condition, and it’s all so direct. He’s thinking aloud, and that boy clearly thinks. But yet it’s joyous. Dessner’s production input on the latest material is evident in a more graceful, slightly less raucous sound, but the spirit and the essence of the band is still very much alive.
The gig really began to crescendo when the first notes of Old Old Fashioned struck up, and how the crowd roared. As band members Billy and Andy swapped out, with Billy taking the keyboard and Andy the bass, Scott mounted the pulpit to preach ‘it takes more than fucking someone you don’t know’ to Keep Yourself Warm. There was no need for Scott to gesture to the crowd to sing along. They already were.
There was certainly no silence either as the band left the stage, with the crowd chorusing Loneliness And The Scream in anticipation of an encore. Scott alone appeared back on stage to perform new single from Panic Attack album, Die Like A Rich Boy, treating us to a vulnerable and raw acoustic solo which cooled everyone down nicely in anticipation of old stompers to close, Woodpile and signature track The Loneliness And The Scream.
As we made our way out over the beer can strewn floor, we had that feeling. That feeling where you go ‘something good just happened there’. That buzz of a good gig. Frightened Rabbit may have cleaned up their sound on their newest album but the heart and soul of the band, the upbeat despair, is unchanged. And for that, Frightened Rabbit fans, be thankful.
Live review of Frightened Rabbit @ St John at Hackney by Helen Mallaby on 14th April 2016. Photographs by Lauren Patel.