By Erin Coulehan
It was D.C.’s first real cold and rainy night of autumn when Glasgow-based band Frightened Rabbit took the stage of Black Cat for what would turn out to be a 90-minute set that featured not one, but two encores, and what front man Scott Hutchinson calls “a human accordion”.
Frightened Rabbit played to a crowd of about 650 and opened with “Modern Leper,” the first track off their second studio album The Midnight Organ Fight, recorded by Peter Katis, who’s also recorded for Interpol and fellow Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks.
What followed was a frenetic performance that prompted the sold out crowd to take partners and dance with each other during songs like “Old Old Fashioned” and “The Twist,” also from 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight and feature vocal hubs in place of bass that somehow add gravity to the songs. These two songs were the most quintessential folk songs Frightened Rabbit played all night with lead vocalist Hutchinson opting for an acoustic guitar and Gordon Skene effortlessly transitioning from guitar to keys while providing backing vocals.
As guests thanked their dancing partners the band introduced songs from their newest EP State Hospital that dropped in late September. The mood of the room immediately changed as the band played the EP’s title track and Hutchinson belted out the consolatory chorus “Her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs/Her skin is thicker than concrete forced to be brave she was, she was/A broken elevator anthem held between floors/But if blood is thicker than concrete, all of it is not lost.”
The band took advantage of the new level of energy inspired in the crowd and heightened it with more emotionally-charged songs including “Fast Blood”
from 2010’s album The Winter of Mixed Drinks and the acclaimed “Swim until YouCan’t See Land.” Hutchinson asked for the crowd’s participation in becoming a human accordion by vocalizing a low bellow during the song that has become the band’s anthem. “Nothing Like You,” also from The Winter of Mixed Drinks, was played and served to amplify the pathos of the room with its post-punk sound and Hutchinson’s raw vocals and confessional lyrics.
One of the show’s highlights was Hutchinson explaining the history of “Boxing Night” off the State Hospital EP.
“Oh, come on. We all know the f**king story. She left me right before Christmas and I spent it in my underpants drinking beer and listening to Billy Joel, with his lovely hair. Billy spoke to me and said I can turn this all into a song, or maybe an album. And you know what? Billy was right.”
The set proper ended with four members including Hutchinson, Skene and guitarists/bassists/key boardists/ backing vocalists Billy Kennedy and Andy Monaghan leaving the stage to drummer Grant Hutchinson, who played a solo that would put Animal from the Muppets to shame.
And yet, the crowd wanted more.
Scott Hutchinson returned to stage with an acoustic guitar in hand to play “Poke” and “Scottish Wind” solo and was later rejoined by Monaghan for “Good Arms VS Bad Arms,” the defeated post-break up realization that an ex-lover has moved on and thriving in your absence.
“I am armed to the teeth and I’m heavy set/ and leave the rest at arm’s length /I’m not ready to see you this happy/and leave the rest at arm’s length/I’m still in love with you (can’t admit it yet),” sang Hutchinson as the crowd fell silent for the first time that evening.
That silence quickly gave way to cheers as the remaining members rejoined the band on stage to play “Living in Colour” before leaving the stage for a second time.
But the crowd still wanted more, and Frightened Rabbit once again delivered and played “Love in a Hole,” which was lyrically the most revealing song of the evening. “It takes more than f**king someone to keep warm,” explains the chorus that Hutchinson belted out to the eager crowd.
The band left the stage drenched in sweat and clearly exhausted, but also exhilarated. All in all, the night’s performance was more of an embrace – rather than a seduction – of the crowd as Hutchinson and Skene joked with the audience in an effort to create a comfortable atmosphere. The band’s mission, after all, is to keep their music alive by getting it out of its dress and into a sweater.