There have been a handful of concerts through the years that have really grabbed me, generally standing out in one of the following ways:
- their sheer epic nature (e.g., Paul McCartney, Gund Arena, Cleveland, spring 2002)
- their ability to take my conception of a band and turn it on its head (e.g., Death Cab for Cutie, Club Laga, Pittsburgh, fall 2004)
- the intimacy of the setting (e.g., David Bazan, a living room in Berkeley, spring 2009; John Vanderslice, an empty apartment in San Francisco, summer 2009)
- their emotional impact (e.g., Dolorean, The Quiet Storm, Pittsburgh, winter 2004; Frightened Rabbit, The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA, spring 2010)
The sometimes embarrassingly raw emotions expressed on Frightened Rabbit‘s The Midnight Organ Fight speak to me on a level that not much music can. It was in heavy rotation through a particularly tumultuous and emotional time in my life, and I feel that it characterizes all the varied emotions and reactions to a breakup in a way that is particularly authentic to my own experience. In my opinion, “Poke” is one of the most poignant and vivid breakup songs ever written, and “Backwards Walk” contains some of my favorite rhyming couplets of all time. The Winter of Mixed Drinks hasn’t grabbed be as much as just yet, but it’s solid and has gotten a lot of plays in the last months.
So, needless to say, I was excited to see the band at The Fillmore last night. The Fillmore has its critics, but I really enjoy seeing shows there. I buy into the whole epic-ness of the venue, thinking about everyone who performed there in the 60s and the legendary status it has in San Francisco music history. And even though it’s now all Live Nation-ed out, there’s still the basket of apples, the hippie guy saying, “Welcome to The Fillmore!” as you walk in, the photographs on the walls, and the free posters handed out after the show. It could be worse. The other thing is that for a lot of the bands I see at The Fillmore, it’s their first time playing a really epic venue, and they are stoked about it. When a band is that excited, it communicates to the crowd and, in my experience, makes the show fantastic. It’s really cool to be a part of that.
And even though I was excited about this show, Frightened Rabbit really exceeded my best expectations. The set wasn’t perfect by any means — there were moments of out-of-tune guitars and voices, the band didn’t sound as tight as I might have thought, and the instrumentation was much less varied than it is on the albums. But to me, that lent a sense of authenticity. Frontman Scott Hutchison was observably excited about playing The Fillmore, really gracious about being there, and the set had a certain energy I don’t experience very often at a show.
It’s also refreshing and comforting to see a band whose entire catalogue you know — the first few notes of every song give you that little, “Oh, yeah, this one!!” They played most of The Midnight Organ Fight and a lot of The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Spiced-up versions of “Backwards Walk,” “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” and “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” were definitely highlights. All five band members had mics, and the backup vocals were nice, even if they weren’t always spot on.
When Scott came out alone with an acoustic guitar for the encore, I knew he was going to play “Poke,” and I chuckled to myself at the predictability. He started into the song and I got goosebumps, and by the time he got to “We can change our partners, this is a progressive dance,” I was actively crying — mouth contorted into a grimace, tears streaming down cheeks. I felt like such a schmuck, standing there crying to a live acoustic version of “Poke.” Does it get any more hipster cliche?! But I couldn’t help it. After the song, Scott just stood still for a minute, and it felt like the whole room was holding its breath. Finally, he chuckled awkwardly, and said, “Wow. That was my favorite time playing that song, of all the times I’ve played it.” He chuckled again and said, “Thank you. I won’t forget this.” So it wasn’t just me — there was something in that room, there was some sort of emotional spiritual thing happening here with all these people and this music. Epic.
After that, the band came on and they played “Keep Yourself Warm,” which was surprisingly great in a different way. I would never have expected to be in a room of people all singing at the top of their lungs: “You won’t find love in a, won’t find love in a hole. It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.” But it happened, it was awesome, and after all, it’s true.
“i’m working on my faults and cracks, filling in the blanks and gaps. and when i write them out, they don’t make sense — i need you to pencil in the rest.” -frightened rabbit