“Ah, The Troxy, we meet at last”.
After two aborted attempts to get to London’s newest swish venue, The Troxy, in the past two weeks – missing The Flaming Lips due to a prior engagement (hey, Kate!), and Monsters Of Folk due to illness – it was nice wandering down Commercial Road to see Frightened Rabbit there. Well, when I say nice, I mean it was nice not getting mugged. Let’s just say the Troxy is a salubrious venue in an insalubrious part of town. The barstaff are nice, if somewhat disorganised, and the vast team of people working in cloakroom seem cheery enough.
I was at the Troxy to watch Frightened Rabbit support Gomez, seeing as I’d managed to miss them at The Lexington earlier in the month1. Now, I’ve only known about Frightened Rabbit for about a month or so when I was sent a link for the video to their new single, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”. To say I was gobsmacked is not even the half of it. I’ve played that bloody song 43 times according to my iTunes, and their last album “Midnight Organ Fight” has been played rather a lot in the past couple of weeks.
Since recording that album, they’ve expanded to a five-piece, and they shambled onto the stage and launched right into “The Modern Leper”. The audience was bigger than you’d normally expect for a support act, and they were treated to Scott’s impassioned yelling of the final chorus (“Well, are you a masochist, to love a modern leper, on his last leg?”), joined by his brother Grant on drums who was happily yelling away too. The band then tumbled through “Old Old Fashioned”, with Grant again going, frankly, a bit mad. The reception was positive, if somewhat muted.
But if the crowd weren’t quite sure about the Rabbit after the two opening tracks, they should have had their minds made up by “Good Arms vs Bad Arms”. It’s a great song on the album and it’s even better live, with the rest of the band providing lovely backing vocals to Scott’s entreaties to his ex to “Keep her naked flesh under your favourite dress”. That song got the hairs on my arm standing to attention, I can tell you.
During “Fast Blood”, Grant’s attitude veered between frantic and laconic, which is quite a trick if you can manage it. There’s a lovely thick richness to their sound, with various band members swapping guitars, keyboards, odd pedal things and a lone bass. Not sure the sound guy was quite up to it, though, as the sound sometimes descended into swampiness2.
Then came “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”. As Scott introduced it, there were more than a few cheers from the audience, which got him looking up at the crowd, astonished. Slower than on record, it’s still best song you’ll hear all year. There’s a gorgeous Calendonian melancholy to it that perversely lifts the soul. 43 times in my case.
The last pair of songs – “My Backwards Walk” and “Keep Yourself Warm” – show the band’s darker lyrical side. Now, when I first posted about FR, I said that they were much lighter in tone than their compatriots The Twilight Sad, which prompted a comment from a lovely chap called Drew pointing out that their lyrics were somewhat darker than I’d realised. And indeed, he is quite, quite right. For example, “My Backwards Walk” starts off with Scott talking about how he keeps returning to a woman he shouldn’t return to, including the great line “These trousers seem to love your floor”. The song then ends on a far darker note of the repeated line “You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it”. I wonder what the massed hordes of Gomez fans thought about that one?
Even better, the last song has the great, bitter, twisted line “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm”. Oh, and then “I’m drunk, and you’re probably on pills, if we’ve both got the same diseases, it’s irrelevant, girl”. Charming words for sure, and part of the reason why they are such a cracking band. They say things that your brain might conjure up in dark, desperate moments, and chuck them on top of songs filled with tunes and hooks. It’s a combination many bands grasp at and by and large fail, but Frightened Rabbit succeed with aplomb. What’s better, they can do it live too.
When leaving the stage they got a huge cheer, and hopefully won over a fresh set of new fans. On collecting my bag, the cloakroom staff (and someone in the queue) asked why I was leaving. I told them I’d only come to see the support act, had to rush home to
babysit parent3, and then gushed over-verbosely for a couple of minutes. One guy said “That’s quite a testament to how good they are, I’ll check them out”. Mate, do it. There aren’t many better bands in the UK right now.
Catch them on tour now round the UK, supporting Gomez (on some nights) and Modest Mouse (on others). One day, with any luck, they’ll be bigger than both of them. And if “Swim” is anything to go by, new album ‘The Winter Of Mixed Drinks’ (out next March) will be a real treat.
1 Even though it may seem that way, I’m not totally and utterly disorganised or anything. Honest.
2 Which, curiously enough, my friend S mentioned about the Monsters of Folk gig. Though she put it more along the lines of “I was going to punch the soundman because he was shit”.
3 A shame, because I wanted to see Gomez again. I love their singer, and the quote I once heard of “Somewhere, in the Mississippi basin, there’s a grizzled old blues guy who sings like Morrissey”.