Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Oxford Collapse, Frightened Rabbit--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

I interviewed Michael Pace of Oxford Collapse last December and he mentioned a little-known band out of Scotland (awfully) called Frightened Rabbit that was currently in his heavy rotation. Fast-forward to a few months ago when I found myself rummaging through the usually sparse used CD bin at Crooked Beat Records and stumbled upon Frightened Rabbit’s recently released LP The Midnight Organ Fight. Remembering the conversation I had with Pace, I added it to my cart and went about my business. Sometime later that week I popped the album in and was immediately hooked by the very first track “The Modern Leper.” Seeing that Frightened Rabbit and Oxford Collapse were scheduled to play together at the Black Cat (a tour which I’m convinced happened because the members of Frightened Rabbit are avid NQL readers), I thought this would be as good time as any to break my recent concert funk and actually stay out after 10pm. Unfortunately, the show was coinciding with an awful sickness I had picked up in Chicago the prior weekend (which is also to blame for this review taking so long to post). No matter, though, I thought I could handle it.

I left around 9pm and I felt dizzy just walking down U Street. Not a good start. The show was actually taking place in the back stage as Harry and the Potters were playing on the main stage. Well, it’s a good thing Pedro and the Guerreros didn’t spontaneously show up or Oxford Collapse and Frightened Rabbit may have been moved to the back alley. (If you haven’t heard Pedro and the Guerreros yet, give them a listen. They’re an up-and-coming indie “concept” band from St. Louis with songs spoken through the eyes of Pedro Guerrero. Their song “Staring Down a Split-Finger with a Split-Personality” is currently summoning a lot of college radio play.)

As I made my way to the back room my sickness took it up a notch and I went into the Black Cat bathroom and dry heaved. This concert better change my life.

I only saw the last song by opening band Takka Takka. Later, Pace was singing their praises and said having to follow them made his band seem like Meatballs II. I found this hilarious as it implies the first Meatballs was some sort of cinematic triumph. Which, now that I think about it, it probably was. And as Oxford Collapse was getting ready to play, I was a complete sweaty and shaky mess. Barely being able to stand, I began texting friends to tell them how brave and dedicated I was to venture out on the town in such dire shape. I was escalating the sickness with each text; by the time the last one was sent I had a 104-degree temperature. I didn't elicit that much sympathy. Unless “Go home u moron” can be considered sympathy. I thought a Sprite and Vodka would make me feel better. It didn’t.

I found some refuge leaning against a pole when Oxford Collapse began. I don’t remember what they opened with, but at that point I couldn’t even remember what town I was in. This later caused problems when I caught a cab home. Aside from having one of the all-time great album covers, Oxford Collapse’s Remember the Night Parties is one of my favorite summer records that I don’t believe was released in the summer. More fun than pretentious and more punk (especially live) than any other genre of guitar-wielding music I can think of, this album was meant to be played while partaking in some of the shenanigans that are seen on the album cover and inside the booklet. While slipping in and out of consciousness, I recall hearing them play “Lady Lawyers”, the sinister “Molasses”, “Please Visit Your National Parks” and “Volcano”. Most enjoyable was when they hit album deep-cut “Forgot to Write” with bassist Adam Rizer taking the vocals and leaving William Butler Yeats behind and playing the role of Chris Makepeace to Pace’s Bill Murray. Other than that, the band mostly played new stuff from their pending August release Bits which I predict will be a blast.

After they left the stage, I realized for the first time that they were taking the opening slot for Frightened Rabbit…and that the room was packed with people oozing with anticipation for the Scottish band. I think the lineup was switched last month at the Empty Bottle. And have Frightened Rabbit blown up that much? I had not realized. But come on, this is Independence week, we’re in the nation’s capital, and you’re telling me the American boys can’t handle closing duties? Whoever is responsible for that decision needs to learn their geography, or history, or something.

Frightened Rabbit started off as the stage name for Scott Hutchison (who is pretty funny guy, by the way) when he was still doing solo shows. The Midnight record has been getting a lot of press lately, and I seem to even remember the guys from Sound Opinions recently talking about it. It’s filled with very catchy and folky ballads with the earlier mentioned “Leper” serving as the opening and best track. Not that the album then declines, but if there is a song on the album that is meant to grab someone’s attention who happened to adopt it from a record orphanage, it is certainly that one.

Approaching 10:45, the band took the stage and one of my knees buckled out from under me. I felt like hell but stood my ground. They opened with “The Modern Leper” and while listening to Hutchison’s commanding Glasgowy-vocals, I decided I can safely reserve a spot for that song as one of my favorite tracks of the year.

I’m hardly a reliable source, but I think the first five songs that they played were taken directly in order from the album. This included the melodic one-two punch of “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms” (track 3) and “Old Old Fashioned” (track 5). The intrigue of whether they were going to play the album all the way through was being taken over by how miserable I felt. After “Old Old Fashioned” I left because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe we can put finally put that age-old myth to bed that Sprite (and vodka) helps you feel better when you’re not doing well. Leaving early was not at all what I had planned, or wanted, but I’ll continue to tell anyone who will pay me mind that Frightened Rabbit is worth a serious listen and deserving of the recent recognition. I will fight to see them again under better circumstances and simultaneously await the August release of Bits. (For those of you who don't believe in record stores, a mid-August release is tantamount to an early to mid-July download.)


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