Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Frightened Rabbit--The Empty Bottle, Chicago, Illinois

We at NQL are nothing if we are not thorough. Just because a band was good here, does not mean they will be good there. At NQL, we hold bands to a high standard. We know it is not fair, but we want every show to be a good one. It really comes down to responsibilities. The band’s responsibility is to try their best to be in the moment and put on a good show. Unfortunately for bands, our responsibility is report on the musical experience as offered. We understand that bands have off nights. We understand that occasionally a lead guitarist might find out he was dumped before walking on stage and instead of channeling that into blues, he channels into dysfunction.

This being the case, Alex saw Frightened Rabbit in D.C. both recently and awhile back and reported upon good shows delivered by really decent guys who were very much present and aware the unique and beautiful opportunity it is to play music live for fans. So, in keeping with quality control standards, I wondered if such a show might be repeated in the fair city of the first Ferris wheel.

Having read previous posts about this band and being aware of the year end excitement, I was curious to see what the hubbub was about. Frightened Rabbit made some top ten lists for the New Year, and I am generally behind the curve. Al had given me The Midnight Organ Fight due to his excitement of it. I tend to like to hear an album through before I see a band. Something about having a vague familiarity with the music that makes it more enjoyable (I think you know what I am talking about, right? That is everyone, right?).

I had never heard the Organ Fight album so I put it on Friday morning. I listened to the album once and really enjoyed it. I listened again and things opened up a bit. I listened again (compelled, not obligated) and the music started feeling that wonderful combination of familiar and still compelling in an urgent way. By the third spin, it was clear I would be attending the concert. Spin four was just because it is really good. I realized that Frightened Rabbit was not breaking down any innovative doors, but they were going straight to the source of what makes good music: feeling, authenticity, and heart.

I was going to this show solo, and I acquired the ticket from our good friends at Craigslist. Steve had an extra and was not a scalper (however, I think Steve got his tickets for free, so he was still making a buck, but at least he was not scalping). One never knows when one buys a loose ticket at a small show. I have gone on to have wonderful evenings tied to the ticket provider, or other times, I have handed my money to a grunting troll. Steve was a nice guy and offered introductory company to his group of three friends to Page (another ticket buyer) and me.

I had never been to the Empty Bottle before. I was excited because I thought it was a bigger venue. It is small and wonderful. The opening band was Arc in Round. I really enjoyed their set. It was singer songwriter stuff twice removed and more ambiguous with an ethereal atmosphere behind it all juxtaposed with really, really tight, sharp drumming (well done drummer with the moustache!).

Before Arc in Round, Page and I missed the intro poem of apparently iconic and legendary Thax Douglas because Steve was busy explaining who he was. We did catch his poem the second time around before Frightened Rabbit. Go local legend! I hope to be some odd, obscure, eccentric character in a scene that is cross-culture some day. I plan to do this when I am 62.

So the band Frightened Rabbit comes onto stage. They go straight into heart, passion, and appreciation. Since I have stated my knowledge of this band is minor, I will present my comments in bullet form:

  • Frightened Rabbit played two shows: one at 7:00 one at 10:00. They were well aware of this. Seeing the first show did not detract from the energy given by the band. The band had enough energy for four shows. They were so excited to be there. “Aw shucks, this is amazing.” That was the vibe. They felt welcome and appreciated in Chicago, humbled by the two shows selling out and probably high off a well received show last time around.
  • Frightened Rabbit plays music because they mean it. Scott Hutchison is a joy to watch because he embodied the spirit of, “I am in ecstasy that you are all here. I really can’t believe you are all here to see our band and to hear my songs. This is a dream. This is one of the best nights of my life.”
  • When done well, watching someone bare their soul about a tragic breakup in song can be horrible, painful, and monotonous; or amazing, relational, and moving. This show provided the latter.
  • My goodness. How can all of you people just stand there and not move while that sound is happening. I understand cerebrally consuming music, but by God, move a little bit. I tend to dance/move a little bit. This crowd did not move much. They appreciated it, but for the most part, remained motionless. I guess this is the price you pay for having your music listened to by a bunch of people who “know good music when they hear it.”
  • The fashion world loves black. Be it Michigan Avenue or small music scene, the people love black. The place looked like a funeral. Where it not for the amazed grins, elated outburst after the songs, and constrained body sways, I would have thought we were burying Laura Palmer.

I have seen too many shows by artists who are “artists” and play the music because they have created some songs for us to have the benefit to hear. Frightened Rabbit played songs because they wrote them and they meant them. We were all there because they wrote them, they meant them, and the songs meant something to us as well. Or at the very least, we could tell that they meant so very much to the band. It is possible that an audience member might have grown weary and bored if they were looking to hear a wide range of musical style or innovation. But if an audience member was present with the band in their moment to hear what they had to say, the night could not fail. Either sympathetic or empathetic, Frightened Rabbit provided the energy and emotion that provided a night of wonderful communal music.

After the concert, a girl next to whom I had been listening and dancing turned to me and said, “I am not trying to say this in a creepy way or anything, but what are you doing after the show.”
I said, “Oh. I am married, if that is what you mean.”
She said, “Oh no. I am from Milwaukee and was just looking for something to do next.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well. If you would like to come with me, I am going to go check out a DJ and then a local label named Contraphonic is having some of their bands play at this loft place. You are welcome to join me if you would like.”

The girl did join me, proceeded to get drunk, enjoy her evening, and sleep on my couch that night. She is now a staff writer at NQL.

--Scott Rudolph

Photos by Jackelyn Crystal Wicklund and Scott Rudolph.

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