Wednesday 11 November 2009

Frightened Rabbit, Bodega Social

Galchen are an unsigned instrumental band from Glasgow, who have been going, on and off, for about eight years. In which time they have only spawned the one record, an EP called 'The Red Dot'. Which as it contains 12 tracks and is 35 minutes long is surely an LP by anyone’s standards. They're also not big on titles, in a way not seen since Forward Russia used to number all their compositions. Perhaps this isn’t surprising considering they don’t have any lyrics.

Tonight though everything has been given a name but I only know because I nabbed the set list, because they’re not big on banter or introducing songs either. In fact they haven’t even been given a microphone to thank the crowd for the applause and have to shout instead.

They open with something called ‘Audio Orgasm’ which is excellent and perhaps appropriately named. What follows is an energetic set and five more tracks, during which their drummer nearly dies at the end of each one.

The band’s name is derived from the names of bass player Gal and guitarist Chenzo. This was apparently all decided before Peter, their energetic drummer, joined them. It’s a shame because he deserves recognition as he puts his all into everything tonight, despite having a symbol that has a sizeable chunk missing out of it. Looks like a rabbit has taken a nibble out of it.

They have some great tunes but for all their brilliance tonight, and call me old (old) fashioned if you like, but I like a vocalist. They need someone like Scott Hutchison to write some words for them. It’s not going to happen though; they are a dedicated instrumental band and committed to the cause. All the members are also in other bands as well, presumably with vocals, so perhaps they don’t feel the need. All the same, good luck to them.

Frightened Rabbit have the best lyrics on the planet. We could discuss this but it's almost certainly beyond debate. There's only one thing better than wallowing in the wordiness of a Frightened Rabbit CD and that's by having Scott Hutchison stood two feet in front of you singing them to you live. This is by sheer coincidence the approximate distance I am from him tonight at the cosy and sold out Bodega Social. So close I can watch his sweat fall into my beer. There’s always a downside isn’t there.

If you've never seen Frightened Rabbit live I strongly recommend that you do unless, of course, you've just split up with someone whom you were rather fond of. In which case avoid like the plague, you'll be sobbing into your pint within seconds before probably glassing yourself with it during the encore when they usually play ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, but more about that later.

Happy stuff then? Nope. So it’s a perfect night out for an old misery like me. Their album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ (great title, think about it for a minute) was probably the best album I never heard in 2008 because it was early 2009 before it got on my radar. It’s a record almost exclusively devoted to the bitter breakdown of a relationship. Which is not a new idea for sure but it is written with such feeling and rawness that it cuts deep, twists the knife, and then pours salt in the open wound. It’s pretty affecting stuff.

When we last saw them they were unplugged, totally acoustic, and, with apologies to the rest of the band, they were all about Scott Hutchison, whose singing reached even more powerful and yes, sadder levels in that format. Tonight, plugged in, and with a new member Gordon, they’re a different animal yet again. They quite simply rock. At one stage they had four guitars going at the same time, tonight they’re rabbits on steroids.

‘Modern Leper’ kicks things off and it sounds great. Obviously more powerful than acoustic but also more potent than on CD. Depression really can sound this good.

This is a pattern that repeats as we get pretty much a rundown of the pain and despair of their last album. A run though of an obviously emotional phase in Scott Hutchinson’s life.

‘Fast Blood’ with its direct lyrics about intimacy, seems well, faster. ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’ is as poignant as ever. A song about his girl not needing his bad arms now that that she's found a better pair. Is he bitter about that? Oh yes, armed with the past, and the will, and a brick.

Then there’s the ultimate sadness of 'My Backwards Walk', great to listen to, great to sing along to but impossible to read the lyric sheet to without feeling for Scott and reaching for the bottle. All ending with the revelation that 'you're the shit and I'm knee deep in it'

They include two new songs and the new single ‘Swim Until You Can't See Land’ sounded particularly good and dare I say it, a little more cheerful.

Good though they are tonight, I have to say I kind of prefer the unplugged style. The band and particularly the drums drown out Hutchinson’s wonderful Scottish accent, which came over as so vulnerable and had such impact acoustically. It also doesn't encourage crowd participation, who would have willingly sung along with every word but perhaps that’s a good thing. Listening to the audience sing when you’ve come to hear a singer can get tiresome after a while.

The slower and quieter start to ‘The Twist’ is an exception and allows Hutchinson’s vocals and his wonderful use of words to shine through on a song that is as gorgeous a cry for love as you’ll ever hear.

Then there’s ‘Poke’, so good acoustic but it actually seems even better with the full band behind it and a souped up ‘Square 9’ is a great one to finish with.

Then they find themselves up against curfew time, you should have come on earlier boys, and have to cut a song from the encore. It’s frustrating because I could see their set list but couldn't quite work out what it should have been because someone has bad hand writing. Another new song perhaps.

This leaves us with a rather rushed but still wonderfully biting ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ with everyone if not singing, mouthing, the words and joining Scott in telling his ex-girlfriend to well, F-Off, or perhaps everyone has got their own ex they wanted to pass the same message to but had never had Hutchinson’s capacity for words to do it in such style.

Wherever his ex is these days, her ears must have been well and truly ringing since he started touring this record back in 2008. Don’t be too hard on her though, without her there would never have been ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ but it does make you wonder how anyone could get close to him again. If you fall out with him, you're going be immortalised in song.

Well I never thought I'd come back partially deaf from a FR gig. Tonight the band showed that not only can they make us cry but that they can make us rock too.

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