On the rare occasions I go see live music, it is always a big event. Probably a little bigger than it should be. The easy way to fix that is to go to more shows, obviously. But there’s a part of me that likes going only when it’s a band that I really want to see.

Friday night was the perfect example of that. My favorite band of the last 7–8 years, Frightened Rabbit, made their first-ever stop in Indianapolis. It was a glorious night.

(Not my photo and not from Indianapolis. But better than what my iPhone could grab in the dark.)

Despite lead singer Scott Hutchison fighting an illness that forced him to cancel a live radio spot in the afternoon – and sit in his hotel watching Seinfeld all day according to his in-show banter – the band offered a powerful, emotion-packed 90 minutes of amazing indie rock.

After opening with “Get Out,” the lead single off their current album, Hutchison greeted the packed house:

“If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time we’ve ever played here, right? You guys are fucking incredible!” Cheers. “Which makes you wonder what the fuck we were thinking?”

Bigger cheers, laughter, and he had everyone on his side five minutes into the show.[1]

The venue they were playing in, The Vogue, is not my favorite. I’ve seen several shows there, and the sound is almost always bad. There’s something about the acoustics that make it damn near impossible to get a good mix. That was true Friday. Some instruments were muted, or even lost, while others were pushed too far forward. That was the only real bummer of the night, but it was to be expected at The Vogue. At least we were fairly close to the stage, I guess.

Despite the sound issues, the band was in terrific form. They roared through 19 songs, playing just about every one of their classics along with a healthy dose of tracks from the new album. Somewhat surprisingly, “The Modern Leper,” arguably their most famous and beloved song, was third in the set list. I would expect it to be slotted later in the night, but it also served to show early on how many big fans were in the house. Almost everyone was shouting the words along with Hutchison.

Their set list does not vary much from night-to-night, which means you know what you’re getting if you do some basic research. But it also means that they have the sequences and transitions locked in pretty good. Most of their songs are big, emotional pieces, but the main set does have a sense of growth as they approach the end. The set ends with “Keep Yourself Warm,” their warning that one-night stands do not solve all your romantic problems. Hutchison took his mic and walked out to the edge of the crowd, turning a dark, depressing song into a huge sing along. It seemed like pretty much everyone was singing along to the main lyric: “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.”

The three-song encore also built to a good closer, their traditional show-ender “The Loneliness and the Scream,” a song built for clapping along and singing the “Whoooa-oooo-oooo-oooooooooo” outro with a thousand or so of your friends.

Despite his illness, Hutchison had other wonderful between-song moments. He praised the medicinal qualities of Scotch, giving Balvenie credit for his ability to perform. After playing two-straight songs off the new album, he introduced the next selection as “and old song.” When there were some cheers, he said he understood how everyone wants to hear the songs that are five years old, not the ones that are two weeks old. “Come on, Scott, play the old ones!” Then he shared the story of going to see Radiohead the day before Kid A was released and suffering through the band playing every track off that disk. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone minded hearing his new songs with his old ones.

From my vantage point, I didn’t always have a clear view of drummer Grant Hutchison, which is a shame. He’s a beast on the kit. I was able to see him at times because he jumps off his stool often, and occasionally got a good view of him flailing his arms around wildly. He projects a sense of barely-controlled chaos, and his massive beats are a huge part of the band’s sound.

Opening band Caveman was very good, too. The band has placed one song in my year-end, favorite songs lists, and I’m digging the two new songs of theirs I’ve heard. So not only were they the rare opening band that I had heard of and enjoyed, but they also put on a pretty good 30 minutes of their own.

The thing that struck me the most about the show was it matched what Hutchison often says in interviews when people ask about whether he relives his old pains when he sings his songs. He’s said that once he writes his songs, that ends the pain. When he’s performing them, he says it’s like watching an old movie where he views how he once felt, but those emotions do not come back.

Frightened Rabbit played 90 minutes of almost all sad songs Friday night. But I didn’t walk out of The Vogue depressed. Rather, when played live, loudly, in front of 1000 loyal fans by a terrific band, the songs join to create an uplifting, inspirational vibe. That evening together was our collective reward for making it through the dark nights of our individual pasts.

  1. I love how most performers need to say something like this when they haven’t played somewhere before. By the end of the night, Hutchison said “We’re definitely coming back!” I’d crack up if he said something more like, “This was a great night! Thank you! We love you! But, honestly, it makes more sense for us to stop in Chicago and Louisville, perhaps even Columbus, than Indy. So it may be another 5–6 years before we make it back. Sorry!” All we want is the truth.  ↩