Last week’s show was my present to myself: Best of Eugene is done! Over! Finished for another year! Time to celebrate with one of Holocene’s delicious old-fashioneds â€”Â best made by the guy with the mustache â€” and my current favorite Scottish band (yeah, I used to have a thing for Idlewild. So? Maybe I still do). And so I drove up Thursday, ate at Patanegra (good, though not astonishing; perhaps we ordered the wrong things) with my pops and headed eastwards to what’s rapidly creeping up the list to hang out with the Wonder Ballroom as one of my favorite Portland venues.
With all due respect to Blue Skies for Black Hearts, I wished a little that we got a repeat of the last show’s opening band. But I was there for the Rabbit, and they delivered. I was wary of the night; I was alone, and there were two girls next to me in giant giraffe costumes which, while cute and clever, were doubtless blocking the view of those folks not quite eager enough to stand in the very front, staring up at Scott Hutchison and company. But the fact is that it doesn’t have to matter. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or how self-conscious you are about the fact that your current OMGILOVETHIS band is playing that song, the one you can’t stand still for or get goosebumps for every time. It just mattes that you’re there, and they’re playing all your favorites â€” nearly everything from The Midnight Organ Fight, I think â€” and that it’s fucking perfect, or as close to as can be expected.
There’s no single thing about Frightened Rabbit that makes them stand out, no musical genius or extreme prolificness or astonishing past. If anything, what they have going for them is human-sized and modest: the relationship between singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison and the drummer, his brother Grant; a contained anthemic power that turns ditties like “Old Old Fashioned” into miniature manifestos and songs like “Head Rolls Off” into something inexplicably compelling and inspiring; and the sheer nakedness of the lyrics. People always say that about really good, really lovelorn lyrics, but that doesn’t make it any less true, or any less meaningful. A friend told me recently that when he was on the phone in a van, breaking up with his girlfriend, his bandmates put on Frightened Rabbit, and I immediately understood how totally wrong that was. You don’t lock this band in to a precise feeling, a specific moment, like that. You let them describe all the possibilities that heartache and rawness can bring.
And when they do it best, it’s simple, easy, wrenching and true. At the very end of the set, everyone left the stage but Scott. He walked to the edge of the stage (I admit to momentarily wishing I had my camera), closed his eyes, began to play his guitar and, without a microphone, broke into “Poke.” This is what it looked like in Los Angeles a few days later:
Everyone went silent. No one moved; no one sang along. They saved that for the next and last song, which (if memory serves, and I think it does) was “Keep Yourself Warm,” a perfect set-closer in the way it shrinks in on itself and explodes into a strange glorious moment at the end. But at the song’s quietest moments, you could hear Portlanders singing along, softly, quietly, in tune.
I only stayed for a few songs of The Spinto Band. They were adorable, they were good, the singer looked like a more indie rock Michael Cera, if that’s possible, and I’m sure at some point I’ll regret not staying to see their whole set, just like I regret not lurking just a little longer to see if a merch guy would appear and sell me that damn supercute Frightened Rabbit T-shirt I can’t find online anywhere. But I’d had my moment. I was done.
Still. I hope I have it again soon.