Friday, May 21, 2010

Concert Review: Frightened Rabbit w/ Maps & Atlases

Urban Lounge, SLC
May 13, 2010

I've mentioned this before, but shows at the Urban Lounge start late. Like 10 p.m. late, and sometimes after a long day of work I find myself struggling to get excited about a show on the weekdays (yeah, I'm prematurely old - alright!?). But Thursday the 13th I had no issues getting myself out of the house to see Frightened Rabbit and Maps & Atlases. I arrived and--as expected--found the place fairly full, awaiting the latter band to take the stage (I unfortunately missed what was apparently a great performance by Our Brother the Native).

Maps & Atlases

Given that Maps & Atlases have yet to release their debut LP (they have a couple EPs to their name, though, check 'em out), I was curious to know what kind of reception they would receive, and if they could get the energy going that night despite their "under the radar" status. Turns out my worry was wasted as it immediately became clear that the band had all the talent and showmanship necessary to put on a great show. Maps & Atlases, a quartet, make extremely technical music--with weird time signatures, constant tempo changes, and some seriously impressive guitar work (if you geek out about that stuff, like I do). But it's also fun music, and when the band kicked into their first number, an upbeat, percussion-heavy tune, the crowd responded almost immediately. Throughout the group's 45-minute set, the audience grew increasingly connected to these engaging performers; Maps & Atlases certainly gained some converts that night.

Behind mountain man-esque frontman Dave Davison and his nasally croon, Maps & Atlases worked their way through both bouncy indie pop tunes and fiercer rockers with apparent ease, showing off with intricate riffs and a few lengthy guitar solos without letting things devolve into an uninteresting jam session. The joyful sound they made was impossible to deny, and though their more danceable cuts were obviously the best received tunes, no matter what the guys played they seemed to get a better ovation each time. The band ended with one of their best numbers, a burning rock 'n' roll tune that went on for some time, but though they'd played a very solid and satisfying opening set--I feel confident saying we all would have enjoyed an encore, even at the expense of waiting for Frightened Rabbit to play. Maps & Atlases proved clearly that even the most cerebral, technical music can--and should--provide for an awesome show.


Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit took the show around 11:30 that night, but even after a length sound check they had everyone's attention when they took the stage. I didn't really know what to expect from singer/songwriter Scott Hutchison, given the often dark and depressing nature of his lyrics, but he was friendly, personable, and complimentary of the group's previous experience in Utah. Then the boys launched into a slowly building introduction into "Skip the Youth" from this year's Winter of Mixed Drinks and it became obvious Hutchison isn't the withdrawn, tortured soul I half expected him to be. He sings loudly, confidently, and makes the most of the music's climactic moments. Earlier this year I was a little critical in my review of the band's new album due to the bigger, more grandiose style, but I soon was rethinking my analysis. The group perfectly replicates the more epic approach on stage, with each member contributing vocal harmony and playing a variety of instruments to do so. And with the crowd singing along at every turn, Frightened Rabbit turned in one hell of a performance.

They played about equal parts their new record and 2008's Midnight Organ Fight, with personal favorites like "Old Old Fashioned," "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and "Foot Shooter" given an extra boost by the rowdy atmosphere and increasingly intense Scott Hutchison, who seemed to get looser with each song. At times he became almost unhinged, yelling emphatically and then subsiding into a quieter passage with an equally powerful emotional delivery. The group finished with a fiery rendition of "Good Arms vs Bad Arms," but everyone knew the drill and cheered loudly until the band returned for their encore. Hutchison appeared alone at first, singing the terribly sad "Poke" with just his acoustic guitar, even removing himself from the mic for the end of the song so the audience could join in what became a drunken sing-a-long. Then the rest of the band joined for "Living in Colour" and "Keep Yourself Warm," the latter of which earned a hearty cheer when announced. It was a thoroughly entertaining and engaging finish to a concert that has set the bar high for any other shows I may see this summer.