Fresh off the release of their debut album, Fort Nightly (QRO review), the Rabbits had to take over the top spot at Bowery when the U.K.’s Mystery Jets mysteriously had to cancel, and the yanks did not disappoint. Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review) was the perfect place for the band’s ‘dance hall’ piano- and guitar-based sound, with the ballroom floor literally shaking in time to their driving beat, thanks to the boppin’ crowd.
The White Rabbits opened up their set on a hip-shaking note with “While We Go Dancing”, a fun call to move your feet that grows bigger and better when heard live. That atmosphere was kept up throughout the night, as the Rabbits managed to perform most of Fort Nightly, while also throwing in a few new songs, and some covers. After slipping a bit following “Dancing” (even pianist/singer Steve Patterson admitted that they “play better with a few drinks in [them]”), the group managed to bring things back to the top with Nightly’s “Tourist Trap” and “The Plot”. This burlesque pair might have hit even higher had they been part of the show’s incredible final run of songs, but as it is, they brought it all back home and set the stage for the more world-weary cabaret of an new song, and a more straightforward, actually somewhat darker, song by famed mordant pop-smith Randy Newman (in celebration of drummer Matt Clark’s birthday).
From the Oscar-winning film scorer’s tune, the band went directly into Fort Nightly’s eponymous track, but it was really the next number, the brand-new “Sea of Rum”, that lit the fuse on the White Rabbits’ killer end-drive. “Rum” had a pirate-y flavor added in to the Rabbits’ grand style, taking it higher and more choral, with extra tambourine. They kept the nautical theme going with “Navy Wives” (dedicated to a very excited young female fan up front), which was perhaps even more soused with bar-bopping goodness. Nightly opener “Kid On My Shoulders” was a pushing, forward-stomping anthem, delivered with a forthright power (reminiscent of The Walkmen). But then the Rabbits went wild with a cover of Bob Dylan’s oh-so-coverable “Maggie’s Farm”. More the two-tone ska version done by The Specials than Dylan’s acoustic-folk or electric rock (it was the piece on which the troubadour famously ‘went electric’), the shouted declarations and jungle-drumming easily made it the most fun song of the night. And right from proclaiming they “weren’t going to work on Maggie’s Farm no more”, the White Rabbits paradoxically jumped into “I Used To Complain Now I Don’t”, with the drums easily matching time while the top Nightly track crashed and built and crashed and built to finish out the night.
At Bowery Ballroom, the White Rabbits took on the headlining role with gusto (even introducing themselves as ‘The Mystery Jets’), but to some degree, the audience didn’t quite match up. The concert was a sell-out, but it seemed that the biggest draw were Vampire Weekend, who preceded the Rabbits. The neo-hippie/dance band from Duke University drew a lot of thick-necked frat boys and their ‘night on the town’-dressed girlfriends who weren’t really up for the Rabbits’ grander, more wry than joke-y sound (and were too young to have heard of The Specials, let alone Bob Dylan…). But for those who came there for the Big Apple-bred White Rabbits, there was no way to leave Bowery without a spring in your step and a swivel in your hip.