Concert Review: Frightened Rabbit at The Pabst Theater (Milwaukee, WI)

Frightened Rabbit (Glasgow, Scotland), The Twilight Sad (Kilsyth, Scotland)
March 22nd, 2013
The Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, WI

In a year full of promising releases from acclaimed bands, Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse set the bar impressively high at just about five weeks into 2013. It’s the fourth album from the Scottish band and it’s arguably their best work yet. And if you’ve heard any of Frightened Rabbit’s excellent previous two albums, The Midnight Organ Fight or Winter of Mixed Drinks, you’d know that’s saying a lot.

Currently touring the US behind Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit stopped by Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater on a chilly late-March Friday night. Indie-rock rising stars, Local Natives, were playing the same night a few blocks away at The Riverside and it definitely made for a tough decision for those caught in the two bands’ overlapping fan base. I can’t speak for the Local Natives show, but after Frightened Rabbit’s exhilarating set at the Pabst, I’m relatively sure everyone in attendance felt they made the right choice.

The night kicked off with fellow Scottish openers, The Twilight Sad.  The group is typically a five-piece, but at the Milwaukee show they were playing as a mellower trio. Vocalist James Graham is a rather passionate frontman and would visibly get lost in the group’s stirring anthems. Boldly-titled “I Became A Prostitute” was a highlight in the band’s genuinely pleasant set. You could tell the guys were thrilled to be opening shows for Frightened Rabbit in The States. Several times Graham thanked the crowd for being attentive and simply listening to the band play. He also praised the venue’s namesake beer, Pabst, and even went on to dedicate a song to it.

I’ve seen Frightened Rabbit play live once before; it was at Lollapalooza a few years back and it was a fantastic show, one of my favorites of the whole festival. I must say though, Friday night at the Pabst was better. The band did have the new catalog of Pedestrian Verse songs, but also it was a more intimate venue. Frightened Rabbit is such an intense band and they play very emotional songs; if you’re able to catch them in a theater or a club venue, it’s an absolute must-see show.

They kicked off their set with the rousing “Holy” off of Pedestrian Verse followed by “The Modern Leper” and “Old Old Fashioned,” crowd-pleasers off of their breakout album, The Midnight Organ Fight. Frontman Scott Hutchison introduced “Old Old Fashioned” by requesting at least one marriage occur in the crowd by the end of the song. Even with the emotional intensity of Frightened Rabbit’s songs, many of them are paired with catchy, danceable melodies and Hutchison urged the crowd to not be afraid to move a bit and have fun with them.

Touring in support of Pedestrian Verse, Hutchison and company unrolled many of the album’s gems in spectacular fashion. “December’s Traditions,” a bit of a mid-album sleeper, was magnificent live; the song showcases an accelerated, building finish and the band delivered on every note. Album closer “Oil Slick” also features a heavy, cathartic close and on stage Frightened Rabbit took it to a blissful, unforgiving level. Drummer Grant Hutchison, Scott’s brother, simply annihilated the drums on the track. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a drummer go that hard, and Grant did it all while donning a nostalgic Tiffani Amber Thiessen t-shirt.

Even with my love of the Pedestrian Verse material, the most impressive part of the night was the band’s rendition of some of their older ballads. “My Backwards Walk” is a heartbreaking song about the ill-equipped efforts at trying to move on after a breakup. On stage, Hutchison sang the song with every ounce of its emotional integrity. Amongst rehearsing, recording and performing, Frightened Rabbit must have played “My Backwards Walk” at least a couple thousand times, yet Hutchison is still singing it as if he spent the whole night before writing it. It’s immediate, it’s personal, it’s real, and tonight, it’s for you Milwaukee. An incredibly intimate performance of an outstanding song.

Hutchinson brought that same intensity to “Good Arms Vs Bad Arms” and “Poke.” With “Poke,” it was just Hutchison on stage with an acoustic guitar. For the second half of the song, he cut off the amp and walked to the very front of the stage to finish it amongst the theater’s natural acoustics (a somewhat popular maneuver for acts that play at the Pabst). The wonderful ballad was somewhat sidetracked however by an impulsive laugh from someone in the crowd at the line “I’d say she was his sister but she doesn’t have his nose.” And because the sound wasn’t amped it halted the performance and Hutchison stopped and laughed at it himself. He recovered nicely though to finish the beautifully moving song. Afterwards Hutchison joked, “Good to know I can walk into any comedy club and that would be funny.”

The set finished with Pedestrian Verse’s fantastic opener “Acts of Man.” Frightened Rabbit closed the song with an epic finish, including a little dazzling surprise from the stagehand technics. The night’s encore ended up being rather jam-packed. After “Woodpile” and “Living in Colour,” the show was going to end with the last song, but Hutchison heard a request for “The Twist” and went with it. Afterwards, Frightened Rabbit still played the listed last encore song, the stomping anthem “The Loneliness and The Scream.”

Pedestrian Verse has been my favorite album so far this year and Friday night at the Pabst was also my favorite concert so far this year. If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend checking out the album and Frightened Rabbit on tour, they’ll be hitting many cities throughout the rest of the year.

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