Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, on the tail end of a monthlong U.S. tour, stopped by New York’s Terminal 5 on October 30th, and played to a surprisingly packed house, given the size of the venue as well as the fact that it was the Saturday of Halloween weekend. While many of the fans – and bartenders – donned rabbit costumes, there wasn’t a sense that anyone was in any hurry to get to a Halloween party, or anywhere else for that matter.
Fairly or not, when one thinks of “Scottish rock,” one naturally thinks of slightly dour music, or at least something on the pensive or melancholy side, thanks to the success of bands like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Mogwai, Arab Strap, and the Delgados. Frightened Rabbit certainly share certain elements with their countrymen, but are, in general, the most upbeat Scottish band this side of Franz Ferdinand. When I first heard that the band would be playing Terminal 5, I feared that the band would be swallowed by the cavernous space. But the band seemed right at home , their folky songs taking on an anthemic quality in the bigger venue.
As the show reached its end, the crowd was re-energized as Craig Finn from the Hold Steady joined the band for a cover of Elton John/Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” followed by a number of costumed concert goers invited on stage to dance to “The Twist” (not the Chubby Checker song).
Glaswegian indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit are currently on tour in support of their third studio album,Winter of Mixed Drinks, and have made a strong push Stateside in 2010. Originally conceived as a solo project for singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison in 2003, Frightened Rabbit have since expanded to a full-fledged, five-member band. Earlier this year, they made their U.S. television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and contributed to The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series with an excellent cover of the Lemonheads “Confetti” (albeit with a significant dash of “Scottish glumness,” as Hutchison described).
In the middle headlining a month-long U.S. tour, singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison was kind enough to take some time for a brief Q&A…
The Music Street Team:You’ve said “I’d like to continue challenging myself and taking different subject matters.” Midnight Organ Fight really focused on relationship heartache and loss, whileWinter of Mixed Drinks’ lyrics focus on ‘resetting’ or recapturing oneself. What kind of other themes do you see exploring on future albums?
Scott Hutchison: I’d like to widen it beyond my own life and experience a little more. When you work through a live set for around 90 mins, and realize it’s mostly about you, it can start to feel a bit indulgent. I think I need to widen the scope of the material.
MST:You’ve really shot to amazing success in the US mainly through word of mouth—with this sudden rise in popularity how does this tour feel compared to your last?
SH: It feels great. I think in many ways, the last tour felt a bit more pressured, as it was our first tour playing some larger, more daunting venues. Personally, I was a little bit uptight during that last tour. I think with the experience of festivals and whatnot this summer, I’ve come to be more comfortable as a performer.
MST:Your band has grown considerably in size since its beginnings—how does this effect the creative and collaborative efforts that go into recording?
SH: Up until now, it hasn’t changed much. I still toil away on my own (by choice), write the songs and then arrange them in the studio. But I’d like to think that may change and I can loosen the reins on this next record. I’m trying to let others in…
MST:What are the challenges of recreating the energy and expansiveness of your songs when playing live night after night?
SH: It’s hard to throw that level of feeling into each song, night after night. I have the occasional evening where I just can’t get it. But most of the time, I am immediately aware of the importance of the songs to the people in the audience, and it helps. Touring is exhausting, and if we didn’t have the fans coming out and giving so much back to us each night, I’d just give up.
MST:What are some of the upcoming bands that you see making a large mark on the music scene in the next couple of years?
SH: The Phantom Band need to be heard by many, many more people. They are coming out on this US tour with us. Their new album The Wants is incredible. I’d also recommend an Edinburgh band called Meursault, Cincinnati’s finest sons Bad Veins and of course, We Were Promised Jetpacks will probably make the best album of next year.
Frightened Rabbit play Terminal 5 in New York City on October 30th. Winter of Mixed Drinks is out now on Fat Cat Records.
Venerable indie record label Matador Records turned 21 this year, and what better place to hold a 21st birthday celebration than Las Vegas? So over three days at the Palms, a cavalcade of Matador stars, past and present, celebrated the label that helped to usher in “indie rock” into the musical vernacular.
The mood all weekend was, naturally, nostalgic and celebratory. Liz Phair called it a “college reunion,” and many of the bands cited how excited they were to see the old gang again. These days, record labels are less and less relevant, but waaaaaay back in the 90′s, you could tell a lot about a band simply based on what label they were on. And in the 90′s, Matador was the big dog of the indie labels, home to some of the most influential bands of the decade, like Pavement, Guided By Voices, Liz Phair, and Belle and Sebastian.
Besides the actual music of the weekend, which was generally great all around, the best thing about the shows was that all the bands stayed in the Palms, along with most of the fans. So just walking around, you’d see bands all over, hanging out, gambling, etc. I checked in to the hotel as Pavement was arriving, had breakfast flanked by various New Pornographers, and stepped into the elevator with Superchunk. So there was a very communal feeling all weekend. Plus, it was kind of amazing how great almost every person performing looked. It’s like there was a fountain of youth clause in the standard Matador contract. Everyone looks almost exactly the same, if not better, as they did in the 90′s. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon is pushing 60, and looks the same. Same with Thurston Moore. Steve Malkmus and Bob Nostanovich look almost better, Mac McCaughan from Superchunk still looks like he’s 14, and Robert Pollard of GBV is obviously immortal.
Best performance awards go to Superchunk and Sonic Youth, two been-around-forever acts that still brought the A-game. Superchunk in particular had the best energy of any act all weekend. Yo La Tengo reminded me why I like their records but hate their live show- endelss guitar wankery surrounding what would otherwise be beautiful songs. And the Pavement performance was the most intriguing, as the happy feelings around the reunion seemed to come crashing down in front of our eyes. It was like watching a train wreck set to indie rock. Whether it was due to sound problems or intra-band strife or a mixture of both, the band seemed all out of sorts. Scott Kannberg in particular spent most of the hour-long set visibly pissed off, stepping off stage several times to berate the sound guy.
Current Matador artists like New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian, Kurt Vile, and Fucked Up were no slouches, and showed that the label is still in pretty good hands, while artists from Matador past like Spoon, Superchunk, and Chavez gave off a local-boy-does good vibe.
It was also great to see Liz Phair and Cat Power, two notoriously stage-fright-y singers, received so warmly by the crowd and give great performances. Chan Marshall was nearly upstaged by her great backing band, and Phair played a sparse, but great, 20 minute set, accompanied by a single guitarist, and joined by Ted Leo for set closer “Fuck and Run.” In a weekend full of nostalgia, Phair’s performance seemed the most nostalgic, given her less-than-amicable split from the label over 15 years ago, as well as the less-than stellar reception of her recent albums.
And of course, they highlight of the weekend was a tour-de-force by the “classic 1993-96″ lineup of the recently reunited Guided By Voices, who tore through 30+ songs over a two-hour, multiple-encore set.