Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad at Varsity Theater, 3/21/13
Photo By Nate Dykstra
With The Twilight Sad
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
March 21, 2013
The sold-out Varsity Theater got a great taste of Glasgow last night, as the all-Scottish double-bill of Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad both delivered soaring, personable sets, though it did take the headliners a bit to find that spark that typically makes their shows here so indelible. Frightened Rabbit are touring in support of one of the best albums of their career, Pedestrian Verse, and they brought an elaborate (for them) stage set along with them for the grand occasion. And while the second half of their 90-minute set eventually caught fire, the start of the performance was rather workmanlike and impassive, but their spirited songs and affable frontman, Scott Hutchison, eventually won out the night.
The Twilight Sad opened the night with an impressive set, as the typically discordant band, who normally perform as a quintet, were stripped down to a restrained trio, with frontman James Graham's resonant vocals leading the way while accompanied by Andy MacFarlane's subtle guitar strains and Mark Devine's keys and beats. It was a thorough reworking of their rather noisy original numbers, and gave the crowd a more intimate, vulnerable take on their imposing sonic arsenal.
The set started strikingly, with the swelling angst of "That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy" grabbing most of the club's attention. Graham proved to be quite an congenial frontman as well, joking about how he was standing on a rubber mat because he kept getting shocked at soundcheck, and didn't want to piss himself during the show, chastising himself after the story, "I'm glad I shared that with you." They then eased into set highlight "I Became A Prostitute," which lacked the raw fury of the original, but still took flight as Graham's rich, evocative vocals took hold of the room -- those who weren't chatting endlessly, that is.
The eight song, forty-minute set seemed to be over in a flash, with Graham taking note of the warm reception his band has always received here, "We've played here four times, and you've always been so amazing, and you're not proving me wrong tonight." And with one last 'Cheers!' to the audience, the Twilight Sad brought the set to a close with a striking version of "Cold Days From The Birdhouse," which elegantly saw them off.
After a twenty-minute wait, Frightened Rabbit took to the stage assertively in front of their first sold-out room on their current U.S. tour, and were greeted by a rousing, lingering ovation from their excitable local fan base. "Holy" got the show off to an upbeat, positive start, with Scott taking a moment after the song to soak in the large crowd before him. "How's everyone doing tonight--you alright? It's so nice to see so many of you here." A slow-burning, acoustic driven version of "The Modern Leper" followed, and got many in the crowd singing right along with the rousing chorus.
Hutchison then shared a story about the band getting stranded in Minneapolis while on tour in 2011. "We got stuck here for about six days because of Hurricane Irene. We did lots of drinking in the Loring. It was great. And every time we come back here, it feels like coming home a bit." And with that, Scott donned an acoustic guitar and led the band through a spirited take on "Old Old Fashioned," which proved to be the clear highlight of the early part of the set.
The show hit a bit of a lull at this point, with the band delivering solid but not special versions of new songs "Late March, Death March," "December's Traditions," and "Backyard Skulls," that seem to be still taking shape in a live setting. Even The Winter Of Mixed Drinks anthem "Nothing Like You" was lacking its typical vibrancy. It wasn't until the rousing, emotional ending of "The Oil Slick" before the band truly made a definitive connection with the crowd, as everyone was unified in singing the track's stirring outro.
From there the set took off, with the always incredible "My Backwards Walk" filling the club with conviction, and the slow-building poignancy of "State Hospital" proved to be a showstopper. The band then left Scott alone with an acoustic guitar, as he joked, "Oh, it's just us now." A heartbreakingly beautiful solo version of "Poke" followed, leading me to wonder just how amazing another solo acoustic tour from Scott would be. Especially after seeing the reinvention of the Twilight Sad's material, it might be a good idea for Hutchison to rework his material sometime in the future, especially given how wonderful his brief stripped-down part of the set was.
Andy Monaghan then joined Scott, adding a muted electric guitar to Hutchison's acoustic for a lovely version of "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms." As the song swelled to a finish, they were joined by the rest of the band who then carried the exultant song home. Scott was clearly at home at this point, joking as he instructed the crowd how to add their voices to the next song, "You're vying for the award of fanciest fucking city in America. There's currently no other city up for that award. Oh, that feels good? Winning an award for which there are no other cities competing with you. Can you be better than Lincoln, Nebraska?"
He was just having a bit of a laugh (at the expense of Lincoln in the end) before leading us through an emphatic club-wide singalong on "Swim Until You Can't See Land," with the band bathed in cautionary yellow lighting. "We don't have to leave Minneapolis until 4 a.m., let's keep drinking at the Library after the show," Hutchison suggested before bringing the main set to a close with the explosive, guitar-laden crush of "Acts Of Man," as Frightened Rabbit got to play out their grunge fantasies at the end of the song, as the club filled with their crunchy guitar riffs and the blinding lights only added to the disorientation and discord.
After a bit of a wait, the encore started strongly with a moving rendition of "The Woodpile." Scott then succinctly introduced the next number, "This next song is a little older than the last one," as the band launched into a jubilant version of "Living In Colour," which really set the club alight. "Thank you so much for coming out to see us tonight. It's been an honor playing this city again. See you all at the Library," Hutchison announced, before leading the band through the triumphant set closer, "The Loneliness And The Scream," which had everyone clapping and singing along as the night drew to a euphoric, harmonious end. Frightened Rabbit thankfully found that spark that made the night special in the end, it just took them a bit to find it.
Personal Bias: I never miss a local performance of Frightened Rabbit, specifically for the transcendent moments like during the encore.
The Crowd: A house full of mostly young FR fans, as well as those who were just getting introduced to their charms.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I don't know who this band is, I'm just here because it's a night out."
Random Notebook Dump: It had been a while since I had been to the Varsity Theater--and I was reminded why I love that room so much. There's something regal and seductive about seeing a band play amongst the stylish chandeliers hanging overhead.
The Modern Leper
Old Old Fashioned
Late March, Death March
Nothing Like You
Head Rolls Off
The Oil Slick
My Backwards Walk
Poke (Scott Solo Acoustic)
Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
Swim Until You Can't See Land
Acts Of Man
The Woodpile (Encore)
Living In Colour (Encore)
The Loneliness And The Scream (Encore)
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