Photo of a US military tank crew from the LIFE magazine collection, 1944
"This is a pretty Scottish show, but you want to talk about Scottish shows? The f***ing Proclaimers are playing here next week! Back home those guys sell out 3,000-4,000 seat arenas ... here they play the same little places we do." This was Scott Hutchison opining on the fleeting nature of US fame for Scottish musicians before the headlining set his band, Frightened Rabbit, played here Monday night. And Hutchison was right - it was a VERY Scottish show. Three of Scotland's best indie-rock bands were crammed into a little club on a Monday night, playing almost four hours of music. A pretty good deal for the $10 ticket price.
The first band that played were the fine young Scotsmen of We Were Promised Jetpacks. Their debut album has been a real highlight in a pretty spotty year for new releases (so far), and I was curious to see how their punchy guitar pop would translate to a live setting. Their set was tight and very energetic - they have good chemistry for such a young band. They opened with a more rocking version of the epic "Keep Warm" from their debut album, and spent the rest of the set hitting all the highlights from that record.
Next up was the Twilight Sad, the shoegaze-inspired arena rockers from (you guessed it) Glasgow who made a big splash in 2007 with their first record Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. I've been listening to their new one, Forget the Night Ahead, a lot lately - I'll post a review of it later this week. Their sound was the deafening wall of pummeling guitars that I expected, and they played a decent set, even though it didn't have as many selections from the new record as I'd hope for. The new songs (especially "Seven Years of Letters" and "I Became a Prostitute") sounded great - the one thing that I found really off-putting about the Twilight Sad was James Graham. It was a situation where a band's frontman looks and acts very different from what I imagined - with his heavy Scottish burr and bleak lyrics, I was expecting him to be a brooding poet of some kind. Instead, he was a cross between David Gahan and Ed Kowalczyk. Something about the shaved head, the preening, and the overly emotive gestures seemed at odds with the music - I enjoyed the set a lot more when I wasn't watching him sing.
It was almost midnight when Frightened Rabbit took the stage, and the crowd was pretty pumped up. The Hutchison brothers (and co.) looked to be in good spirits, launching immediately into a high-energy set that hit just about every song from their last album. Maybe this is just "Headliner vs. Opener" Syndrome, but the sound mix was noticeably better - songs like "Fast Blood" and "I Feel Better" maintained the excellent dynamics of their recorded versions, and poppy singles "The Modern Leper" and "Head Rolls Off" delivered some extra emotional heft with the addition of live-show energy. Grant Hutchison's drumming was a real highlight as well - the much-overused descriptor "propulsive" is the only appropriate way to describe his contribution to Frightened Rabbit's live sound.
I would have liked to hear a few more songs from their debut record, Sing the Greys, but the one number they did include from that album was a highlight. "Square 9" was the song they chose to close the set with, and it sounded great. They also debuted a new song from their next album (due 2010) - "Nothing Like You". On first listen, it sounds like a natural development of their sound, and it's as catchy as anything they've done. Ears ringing, I stumbled out of the Urban Lounge at 1:30 AM, making a mental note that 2010 is already shaping up as a good year for music.
"Square 9" by Frightened Rabbit