Frightened Rabbit, Plants and Animals Walter's on Washington October 21, 2010
Aftermath has always favored "out of sight, out of mind" over "absence makes the heart grow fonder," but after Thursday's Frightened Rabbit performance at Walter's On Washington to a sweaty and packed-in throng of adoring Houstonians, we may have to adjust that belief.
Frightened Rabbit have attempted to come to Houston twice before. The first time, they claimed to have had their tour bus break down, but singer Scott Hutchinson revealed at Thursday's show that in actuality, their drummer (and his brother) Grant had been arrested in Austin. Well, of course, it's not the first time Austin's asshole cops have fucked up something good for everyone else.
The second time Frightened Rabbit tried to come to Houston last April, they were prevented from doing so by a volcanic eruption. If it had happened in a novel or movie, people would have said it was contrived. Aftermath watched their Twitter account with growing dismay as they continually updated their status from London's Heathrow airport, until finally the cancellation was official. Before Thursday's show, you couldn't blame us for fearing it might not happen due to plagues of locusts, a meteor strike, or possibly an attack by Lord Voldemort.
But happen it did, and Lord have mercy, was it ever worth the wait. Walter's sold out early, before openers Plants and Animals even took the stage. Once they did, they were greeted by an unusually enthusiastic crowd who were energized and participating from the get-go, cheering loudly and singing along.
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Plants and Animals singer Warren Spicer seemed surprised by the warm welcome, which only soured when the Nova Scotia native took us on a trip down memory lane to the Houston Oilers' infamous playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. You know the one, it was the game where the Oilers scored something like 300 points in the first half, guzzled horse tranquilizers at halftime, and then returned to the field to nap while the Bills frolicked and pirouetted freely into the end zone until the clock ran down.
"The Oilers were my favorite team, it really hurt to watch that. Do you remember?" Spicer asked. We do, Warren, we do. Too soon, man.
All was forgiven when Plants and Animals wisely went back to playing music, however, and Aftermath, never having heard of them before Thursday, found ourselves again pleasantly surprised at how good they were - now we'd pay to see them play by themselves. They fall somewhere between old Radiohead and new Flaming Lips on the indie-rock scale, with classic-rock inflections, particularly in the reverb-soaked vocals. Great stuff, and perfect for whetting the appetite.
Most of Frightened Rabbit came out to attempt to get their instrument levels in check before their set, and although there were a few difficulties at first, the engineers at Walter's soon worked it out. They opened with 2008's Midnight Organ Fight lead track "The Modern Leper" to screams, actual screams, of joy. Scott Hutchinson, the band's songwriter, has a talent for infusing his extremely personal lyrics with a unique sense of universalism that nearly everyone can relate to.
It was as if somehow someone had learned our own personal songs that applied specifically to our lives and was singing them back to us. The connection between the band and the audience was tangible.
We're pretty sure the air conditioner was broken at Walter's, or at the very least not set properly. We've been to many a show at the Heights indie mainstay, and it was as hot as it's ever been inside. It was a sweltering, sweat-soaked mess, and nobody seemed to care. Sure, people were uncomfortable, but it didn't appear to affect the mood one bit.
The crowd sang along exuberantly, cheered, shouted, clapped, danced, and drank every last drop of beer in the place. We've never seen Walter's cooler as empty as it was when we closed our bar tab. All that was left was one bottle of Budweiser, one bottle of Bud Light, some tonic water and Coke, and a lime. It looked like a dorm fridge, post-party.
Frightened Rabbit's set hit the highlights from this year's The Winter of Mixed Drinks, including the contemplative "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and thrilling fist-pumper "Living In Color." To Aftermath's extreme pleasure, most of the material came from The Midnight Organ Fight, with no fewer than ten songs off that album.
The crowd chanted deafeningly along with the "aa-aaaa" portion of "My Backwards Walk," danced and swayed to the deism-exalting "Head Rolls Off" and roar-sang nearly loud enough to drown out the band during "Keep Yourself Warm," the closest thing Frightened Rabbit have to an honest-to-God stadium-rock song. Hutchinson threw in a couple of lines from The National's "Bloodbuzz Ohio" at the end of "Warm," and we couldn't help but think back to that band's recent show at House of Blues.
The audience there absolutely loved The National, but the sterilizing effect of House of Blues' corporate demeanor dampened the enthusiasm just enough to notice. It wasn't a problem with Frightened Rabbit. If Walter's is good for anything, it's fostering intimacy and a feeling that you might as well cut loose.
Indeed, for the encore, Hutchinson came out and began to play fan favorite "Poke," then stopped, unplugged his guitar, walked out to the very edge of the dais, and started over with no amplification whatsoever while the crowd eagerly sang along. It was another odd parallel to The National's show, and we wondered if maybe Frightened Rabbit had caught an early plane out to Houston to see them and had been hiding here the whole time since, Selkirk accents being the only thing making them stand out. These are the kinds of thoughts we have when we're deliriously happy.
Frightened Rabbit closed with knockout love-drunk sweetheart "The Twist" and thumping thumping existentialist declaration "The Loneliness and the Scream," and as soon as it was clear that there wouldn't be another encore, the crowd poured out into the mercifully cool night air faster than we could walk across the room to the bar. A few hung around to talk to and thank the band, and a few (including Rocks Off) lined up to buy T-shirts.
All were soaked in sweat, sated, and happy. Here's to hoping Frightened Rabbit's future excursions to this side of the Atlantic go smoothly and are plentiful.
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Personal Bias: Midnight Organ Fight was our favorite album of 2008. No exaggeration, no revisionism, it was straight-up No. 1. So yeah, we're pretty much a fanboy.
The Crowd: Indie-rockers who were for the most part no more than a scant year or two past the quarter-life crisis, celebrating being young and alive while wearing the harsh lessons of the early twenties in their dreamy, misty eyes. What, too much? Okay, it's possible they were just drunk.
Overheard In the Crowd: "FRIGHTENED RABBIT, YOUR DRUMMER IS FUCKING AWESOME!" And also singing, lots and lots of singing with next to no chatter. [Ed. Note: Are you sure this happened in Houston?]
Random Notebook Dump: Ran into the same old friend we almost never see at both The National and Frightened Rabbit shows. Considering FR's weirdly overlapping National moments, we can't help but think the universe might be telling us to hang out with this guy more often.