Sunday, May 09, 2010

Frightened Rabbit/Maps & Atlases/Our Brother the Native; May 9, 2010; Pabst Theater

Despite the fact that Scottish sensations Frightened Rabbit played several times during SXSW, I somehow missed every show except for an early morning, radio-station-sponsored, duo show in the lobby of the nearby Hilton. Unlike Jason Collette, I didn’t know I was going to have a chance to see them back in Wisconsin. I had already decided to see Simon & Garfunkel on a rare tour, even rarer was that they were coming to Madison. Only two weeks before the show it was announced that Garfunkel had strained his vocal chords, and they were rebooking the tour. Fortunately that meant I could see tonight’s show, unfortunately the Simon & Garfunkel show was rebooked to a date that I had APT tickets, but that’s a different headache.

As far back as I can remember, the openers for Pabst Theater shows have been inexplicably, remarkably terrible. I spent a few minutes tonight naming them off, willing tonight to be different. It wasn’t. I might have liked Our Brother the Native if it wasn’t for the lead singer’s ridiculous flailing about. He stood behind two cases that I incorrectly predicted to be two turntables and a microphone, occasionally reaching in to one of them to turn a knob or something. I’m still not sure exactly what was in those boxes, but it certainly wasn’t anything that made them any better. I was moderately interested in their floppy haired guitar player who strapped his guitar high under his arm, looking like the Whigs’ Parker Gispert. However, once he proved far less riveting, I sat back in my seat waiting for them to be done. Unfortunately Maps & Atlases weren’t any better. When I first heard the name, I thought maybe I had seen them before, but as it turned out I was just confusing them with the equally boring Plants & Animals. What I didn’t like about them was harder to pinpoint than the first band, I just didn’t like them.

Luckily, as with almost every Pabst show, the headliner makes up for the opener. It had been advertised as a “lower level” show, but there were quite definitely people sitting in the first level, leading me to assume that they had sold more tickets than they had expected. Frightened Rabbit has seen their star ascend very quickly, but they are still very humble about it. Lead singer Scott Hutchinson thanked us repeatedly for coming to the show on a Sunday night, marveling at the fact that only a year before they had been there as the opener on another bill. At that time the band was a three piece, since then their continued success has allowed them to add two additional guitar players (one the skinny young boy I had seen in the Hilton lobby). He also expressed due awe for Pabst’s remarkable backstage area. “From now on,” he declared, “we are going to demand that every backstage have a chair shaped like a hand.” He’s right, it is easily the best backstage I’ve ever visited, and while I was certainly a fan of the hand chair, I was more impressed with the fantastic assortment of games which included Rock’em Sock’em Robots and a stack of Etch-a-Sketches.

Their set hit the highlights of their three records, focusing on recent release The Winter of Mixed Drinks. I almost felt like standout track “Swim until YouCan’t See Land” should have come with the footnote “as seen on Chuck,” so prominently was it featured in an episode this season. Rather than becoming annoying, the oft-repeated title actually enhances the feeling of going beyond your limits, leaving you tired but fulfilled. Midnight Organ Fight’s “Old Old Fashioned” was a welcome friend, the song that first caught my attention and got me hooked on them. At some point toward the end of their enjoyable set I had the unlikely thought that they were sort of a Scottish Hold Steady, only to have Hutchinson mysteriously read my mind by singing “South town girls won’t blow you away, but you know that they’ll stay,” several times at the end of the song, a line which just happens to come from the Hold Steady’s song “Southtown Girls” (cue the creepy music here). It was a noteworthy end to a very solid show. I guess I owe Art a thanks for straining his vocal chords.

Our Brother the Native

Maps & Atlases

Frightened Rabbit

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