Putting one of Scotland’s local indie darlings onstage just before midnight at Glasgow University’s annual black tie ball is sure to yield a predictably drunken turnout, and although there’s no abundance of staggering youngsters, who don’t seem to know what room they’ve ended up in tonight, the core of Frightened Rabbit’s audience know exactly what they came here for.
The band have come a long way since sophomore album The Midnight Organ Fight blew up in 2008, and with all the subsequent critical acclaim and overseas touring (not to mention the release of an even more successful follow-up), it feels as if things have come full circle here at their last gig of 2011. There’s a rich sense of homeliness in the room as frontman Scott Hutchison beams around halfway through the set: “Thanks for coming to the Frightened Rabbit office Christmas party”. He later checks up on the crowd: “I hope you’re doing okay out there. We’re having a fucking great time”. The man’s earned the right to be enjoying himself, and, having performed well-received set staples like I Feel Better and Fast Blood, his band have no doubt proved their relevance to any naysayers that may have been present up to this point.
It’s no surprise that the set-list mostly contains cuts from that second record, arguably their opus. The subject matter of those songs – breakups, failed relationships and the anger, depression and empty, casual sex that may follow – are sure to resonate with the student demographic. I don’t want to judge, in fact I’d love to be wrong, but there’s definitely a feeling that life will imitate art for at least some of these punters by the early hours of the morning. Ah, to be young, to be young.
Not that I want to put a damper on this evening’s entertainment by sounding patronising – it’s more that these songs really feel like modern Scottish classics, poetically outlining youth culture in the same kind of honest, uncomfortable and uncensored way as Arab Strap’s gritty, half-spoken-word narratives did a decade before. They still hold the same emotional weight too, and the band’s delivery drips with energy and sincerity, which only adds to the experience. You really believe Hutchison when he repeats lines like “I’ll make tiny changes to earth”. At certain points you can see that he’s noticeably pleased to see mouths mimicking his words. After all, they were his cathartic rabbit-hole confessions before; they’re anthems now.
Heart-on-sleeve moments aside, the inclusion of dance-worthy, jangle-pop numbers like The Twist and Swim Until You Can’t See Land (post-song guitar-noise freak-out included) go down well and have partners bunny-hopping on the dance floor, a cheery wave of hands spilling over the balconies above. And even as the band return to moodier territory with the heart-wrenching closer Keep Yourself Warm, they’ve got everyone shouting “I’ll get my hole” in unison as if it’s some kind of spiritually enlightening mantra. It’s funny, strange and kind of touching.
Review: Ross Watson, Photography: Paul Stevenson, flickr.com