Frightened Rabbit @ Oxford Art Factory
Credit: Sarah O'Leary
Drunk off four dollar Little Creatures and bragging loudly about a presentation he's doing in a couple of weeks about the progression of sub-cultures and their relationship with ancient segregation laws. On the other side a small group of guys who have meticulously reserved their spot for hours are split by a few late-comers, keen to move forward and get an unobstructed view. Politely, but not without some obvious frustration, they let the group pass, every third member of the seemingly endless parade shooting up brief apology glances. Someone at the back spots movement off stage and lets off a loud, signalling yelp of pleasure. The rest of the crowd join in. Conversations trail off, merging with the introduction and first song, keen to not halt awkwardly. Even for the main event.
I knew it wasn't going to be as good as the last time. On that occasion the venue was The Factory Theatre, which — from the selfish viewpoint of the punter — benefits from a strictly enforced safety guideline relating to adequate fire exits. Thus, it can never quite be at absolute capacity, rewarding each attendee their own three-metre diameter of personal space. Just before Frightened Rabbit take to the stage I tell old mate Izzy I'm gonna stand over there. Just in case I cry.
Few other musical experiences have come close to that. For me, it was the perfect environment for Frightened Rabbit, a band best enjoyed in isolation. No dancing. Maybe a toe tap. But that's it. I get that people absorb music into their bodies in different ways and that songs like Old Old Fashioned and The Oil Slick have a certain "groove", but these are just generic attributes of music, not particularly unique to the band in question. For me, it's the clenched teeth of frustration, the emphasised curse words thrown as daggers, the agony dressed up with a mild sense of whimsicality. These are the eyes-closed, mumble under the breathe moments for me. This is what makes Frightened Rabbit who they are.
For the first three songs my view of Scott Hutchison is completely blocked by a large load-bearing pole. No matter my attempts, this always seems to be where I end up at a sold out Oxford Art Factory show. Partial view, squashed between two chatty groups adding their two cents into every possible pause like we're not balls-deep in the worst recession of the post-Banana Republic era.
Hutchison's vocals are far too prominent in the mix. Too clear. I want them struggling to get to the surface, fighting through the heavy fog. Here they're pristine and easily decipherable. Possibly a beneficiary of my viewpoint changing during the set, my ears getting used to the different volumes or a slight adjustment from the sound guy, this becomes less annoying as the show progresses.
Nothing Like You sounds amazing, bursting from the stage with the associated jubilation of fresh starts. Similarly, My Backwards Walk and Holy are packed with punches, fulfilling the audience's need to move around a bit on the spot, as well as satisfy those that came to hear some heartache. Scottish Winds, from their stop-gap EP last year, is probably my favourite song of the post-Mixed Drinks era and the personal highlight of the evening. It's all gritted anguish, pride and a drunken whiskey haze. It's delivered solo and unplugged with the band leaving Hutchison alone to hover over the audience from the edge of the stage. My mind wanders mid-song. Will Frightened Rabbit ever come full circle, return to their original, one-man format? For me, I don't think it would be the worst thing in the world. After all, it's arguable (and comparable) that Malcolm Middleton's post-Arab Strap offerings are on-par with his work with Aidan Moffat.
Poke is performed in the same lonesome format. Quietening and calming the pissed attendees is the challenge. People shoosh each other. Some revellers refuse to co-operate, others attempt to prove the strength of their loyalty by quietly singing along. They get shooshed too. At "the cunt line" these rules are momentarily waived and there's a notable boost in volume. A restrained giggle from the audience. It's hard to tell if people actually like the song or just enjoy it's liberal use of the four-letter arrangement and it's continued role as one of the few remaining refuges of vulgarity in our society. Either way, I can't fault this. I love the rawness of the song, and the painfully blunt lyrics that are calmly delivered. I also spent much of the 90s listening to rap music, at least partially because of it's arrogant imprecations that led to it being such a socially outcasted genre.
A guy down the front takes every opportunity to yell out a request. When one is fulfilled he moves down his list to the next one. Hutchison handles this. "You're doing my tits in". He buries any potential tension in a thick layer of Scottish charm. As part of the obligatory encore they play The Twist, a song the requester had been calling out for most of the night.
Much like The Torrentmakers, I find the Internet sub-culture of Set-list Curators fascinating. What's the motivation? It's such an unselfish act and one of the few remaining examples of what the Founding WWW Fathers had in mind when they sent the first LOLCATZ newsletter back in the early 90s. Here's the list of songs Frightened Rabbit's played at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney on May 9, 2013, uploaded by alanduffin.
Living In Colour
The Modern Leper
Old Old Fashioned
Late March, Death March
Nothing Like You
The Oil Slick
My Backwards Walk
Poke [Scott acoustic]
Scottish Winds [Scott acoustic]
Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
Swim Until You Can't See Land
Acts of Man
The Loneliness and the Scream