The choice of venue for tonight’s (14 April) Frightened Rabbit show couldn’t be more apt at this point in the band’s career. Frontman Scott Hutchinson - so renowned for his uniquely Scottish brand of miserablism - recently moved from gloomy Glasgow to sunny Los Angeles. His return to these shores sees his band play in one of the most Oldie Worldie venues around.
Under St John at Hackney’s water-stained vaulted ceiling and in front of majestic stained glass windows, Frightened Rabbit are here to play hits from across their back catalogue as well as celebrate the release of their fifth LP – Painting of a Panic Attack. In tune with a setting that recalls their rootsy origins, it’s their rawer older material which goes down best; tunes which nakedly depict heartbreaks and hangovers without artifice.
Cheers are loudest for tracks from the band’s breakthrough record, The Midnight Organ Fight, and stand-out track "Head Rolls Off" receives a football crowd-style sing-along for its opening lines. “Jesus was just a Spanish boy’s name / How come one man got so much fame?”, purrs Hutchinson with a smile as the returning roar echoes around the cavernous church.
Perhaps the set’s finest moment is the left-it-late inclusion of "Keep Yourself Warm" and the frontman scaling the pulpit, arms outstretched to deliver a cautionary sermon of downward spiral and casual sex through song. The track is beautifully delivered, flitting between gravelly tenor and wailing falsetto. The band on stage up the ante too, drummer Scott Hutchinson pounding out every beat like a straining heart on the edge of failure.
Other tracks – particularly from their latest record – are less successful, and not through lack of familiarity. Where earlier material is raw, urgent and lyrically potent, newer material seems over-polished and ultimately reflective of change without progression. Case in point is the electro-tinged "Woke Up Hurting", which is all muscle and no soul with echoes of Kings of Leon. “Fuck what your friends are listening to in Hoxton”, prefaces Scott Hutchinson before the quintet needlessly chase a trend in the track that follows. Frightened Rabbit have never been the most fashionable of bands, but that disregard for their own status of cool is what made them most compelling in the first place.
Five albums in, Frightened Rabbit remain one of the finest bands Scotland (and indeed, the wider UK) has produced in recent years. Let’s just hope that in regards future material, New World novelty doesn’t completely overrun Old World vitality.