According to Sasha Frere-Jones, Neil Diamond’s voice has two settings: less Neil and more Neil. Something similar could be said of Scott Hutchison, frontman of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit—his thickly accented keen can be less poignant or more poignant, but it’s always poignant. The band’s March 21 show at the Varsity Theater, though, had a “Song Sung Blue” quality to it. The songs were sad, but the mood was buoyant.
Almost all of the songs Hutchison writes for his band are on the dark side of moody, but the darkest—and by far the best—of Frightened Rabbit’s albums is The Midnight Organ Fight (2008), a classic breakup album that’s thick with double-edged lyrics and arresting textures. The other three are all good—including the newest, 2013’s Pedestrian Verse—but with Organ, Hutchison guaranteed that he’ll be including the same set of wrenching songs on every show of every tour for the rest of his life.
The fact that he can still invest so much emotion into his performances of those songs—at the Varsity, a solo “Poke” was especially powerful—is testament to his talent and professionalism. That’s especially true when he’s in such a damn good mood as he was this night, gaily chatting away with the audience and vamping Springsteen-style during the jams.
Hutchison even referenced Springsteen in explaining to a fan why he wasn’t going to be playing every request. Referencing Springsteen’s famous marathon shows: “We have four fucking albums now, and I’m not nearly as fit as Bruce Springsteen!” Still, the set list was a solid mix of the band’s albums, favoring the most recent three of the four and especially Midnight Organ Fight. The new songs unfortunately failed to make much of an impression; perhaps they need some time for both band and fans to grow into.
There’s certainly no question that the fans will be around for the long haul. Frightened Rabbit have frequently played the Twin Cities, and their Varsity show was an easy sell-out. Hutchison played to the local love, telling the crowd that Minneapolis “feels like coming home” (roar from the crowd) and that we did the “fanciest” job with a singing assignment of any city where they’d ever tried it—garnering loud cheers, even after Hutchison admitted that they’d never tried it anywhere else. “Do you understand what you’re cheering?” asked Hutchison. “You’ve won a contest where you’re the only entrant.”
One of my friends nearby pumped her fist and said, “America!”
Read Jay Gabler’s review of Frightened Rabbit at the Varsity Theater in May 2010 and coverage of the band at SXSW in March 2010.
The Twilight Sad