Sunday 29 March 2009

Frightened Rabbit, The Musician, Leicester

Tucked away in a small side street around the back of the impressive new 'Curve' theatre in Leicester there is a venue called The Musician. With a capacity of 220 it's certainly cosy but it's well laid out and it looks like a great place to see a band. It even serves three real ales at the bar and in real glasses too, so I assume they're not expecting a riot this evening.

We, true to form, blag a spot stage front in time to catch tonight's support act, Ross Clark and his band The Scarfs Go Missing. I had to google that, such was the depth of Ross's Glaswegian accent I never manage to decode the name of his band at the time.

The bespectacled Ross, looking and acting a bit like a cross between Black Francis and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, and his band entertain us with his Scottish take on what you'd probably call blues/country. They are very good and clearly enjoying being down here in England. They tells us what a great time they had in Blackpool last night and if we buy a few of their CDs they might be able to have a great time in Leicester too and perhaps even get to eat.

By the time Ross and his boys have finished the place has got really busy and it looks like the Musician could be full for tonight's main event.

The first thing to say about Scott Hutchison is that he can hardly be described as a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights of fame, far from it. It's obvious from song one, the terrific 'Backwards Walk' that this rabbit has great stage presence but then as he's someone who bares his soul so much in his songs, I suppose he can't afford to be shy.

Scott has been playing under the stage name of 'Frightened Rabbit' for the last five years and what started out as a solo project has gradually turned itself into a full-fledged band. His brother Grant soon joined him to play drums and then a couple of years ago Billy Kennedy came in on guitar. Andy Monaghan joined them more recently to help them perform last year's 'Midnight Organ Fight' album live.

Tonight it's an 'unplugged' acoustic show, in aid of their recently released live album 'Liver! Lung! FR!', although I'm not totally sure of the precise definition of this. Scott does have a proper acoustic guitar with a taped on microphone but we still have electric bass and guitar, as well as a keyboards, although the use of electronics does seem to have been toned down. This means that his vocals come through more clearly than on record and you can get to grips with every word of his emotive songs.

Frightened Rabbit are just one of many critically hyped bands that we've seen recently but at a lot of these gigs the punters that have turned up to see what the 'buzz' was all about have simply stood, watched and quietly appreciated (presumably) the music. Tonight no one can accuse the crowd of being here simply because of the hype. Most were fervent devotees and sung along to practically every word of the songs from both of their studio albums. It also seems the norm to shout out your requests at Frightened Rabbit shows. The band came with no prepared set list but seemed to know what their first half a dozen or so tracks would be. 'Good Arms Vs Bad Arms' lead us into a succession of most of the 'big' moments from 'Midnight Organ Fight' and included the country blues of 'Old Old Fashioned' when rather appropriately Ross Clark joined them on stage. Returning the favour from when Andy Monaghan played keyboards on one of their tracks.

They then proceeded to adlib the rest of the set according to what the audience wanted to hear, which was mainly stuff from their debut album 'Sing the Greys'. Tonight we get 'Go-Go Girls', 'Square 9' and a cover of N-Trance's 'Set You Free'.

Throughout, the band put just about everything they have into their performance especially Scott, who literally sweated buckets for the cause, although it was very hot in the Musician.

All too soon they're finishing off with 'Modern Leper' and retreating behind the curtain at the back of the stage for a well earned towel down. After a vociferous shout for more, Scott returns to stand right at the edge of the stage and play a truly unplugged 'Poke', pure acoustic guitar and not even a microphone to carry his voice.

Then I wonder if there might be a fight after all as people try and get their favourites played. Another popular request follows with 'Be Less Rude'. Then Scott finally relents to crowd pressure and plays another of his 'heart on the sleeve' classics 'Snake' which he explains does not refer to any part of his anatomy but to a draft excluder that he took to American to woo a girl he knew there. He didn't tell her that he was coming because she'd have told him not to bother if he had. The tactic didn't work, as he suspected it wouldn't, but at least he got a song out of it. It's clear he's had a harder time than most of us with women. I wonder how many more heart wrenching tales he's got up his sleeve.

One song that you didn't think people would be so keen to sing along to is the superlative 'Keep Yourself Warm' but everyone seems pleased when he closed the night with it and of course the whole room joins in, as they have done all night, passionately bellowing all the F words back at Scott in unified fashion. A classic moment.

The whole set was pure quality from start to finish.

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