Webster Hall (QRO venue review) has a type of double-false ceiling. The venue was originally opened in 1886 and has undergone innumerable redesigns, remodels, and architectural altering since then. Above the balcony hangs the tattered exoskeleton of something that used to be a ceiling. From the ornate remnants, there’s a sense that what used to be there was majestic. Through that fossilized ceiling you can make out the faint grid of another former ceiling. The geographic patterns of the scaffolding that once made a ceiling get mixed in with the catwalks and beams that support the lights and technical guts of a performance space. Above that, the space seems to go on endlessly into darkness. If you didn’t know you were inside you might assume it was a starless night.
People crammed into the venue, consuming the open space, a sea of bodies all the way back to the bar, swimming beneath the double ceiling of history. On Thursday, October 24th, the coarse, wide sounds of Frightened Rabbit filled the space above, as they played the first of a two-night stand in New York.
Frightened Rabbit is, in many ways, what we want so many other bands like them to be. They have the foot-stomping pub-music qualities of pop darlings like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers – but they don’t fall into the alt-country or handlebar mustache culture that envelops those bands. They have emotional insight and frailty, they make music that grasps at fear, failure, darkness, and a hope that is sometimes found and sometimes absent – but they do it with insightful, cutting, often self deprecating lyrics, not with dripping sentimentality. They have the pop appeal of Snow Patrol, but seem patently unable (or unwilling) to produce a commercial success like “Chasing Cars”. Their sound is wide, incorporating intricate guitar work with a texture that is coarse. If the sound often meanders dangerously close to garden-variety alt-rock, which it most certainly does, it does so reluctantly or with the intentions of building something better from it.
Their music lends itself to the grand sing-along. Choruses often revolve around a series of “oohs” “ahs” and other easily followable, easily reproducible, sonic tricks. So, when the band played, the area above the double-false ceiling was filled with a hall-full of backup voices belting out the “oh oh oh ohs” of “Old Old Fashioned” or a heavenly choir of “ahs” during “Poke”. It was enough to send chills, to make you feel that you’re a part of the show, not just witness to it.
On Thursday night, that’s what they were like. Scott Hutchinson poured his soul into the mic and into his guitar. Grant, his brother and the band’s drummer, looked like a man possessed. He plays with his mouth open, eyes wild. He’s the perfect human embodiment of Animal, from The Muppets.
The show ended with “The Loneliness”, another song that has a chorus designed for live performance. As the audience engaged with the “oohs” and “aahs”, Grant became a blur behind his kit, Scott belted out lyrics through his thick Scottish brogue. The “oohs” and “aahs” mixed together in that space above the ceiling. Maybe they’re still kicking around up there.