Monday, May 10, 2010

Frightened Rabbit and Maps & Atlases - May 8th 2010

Chicago's Maps & Atlases used their opening set in front of Frightened Rabbit at Metro Saturday to win over the sold-out crowd, and succeeded in gaining a boatload of new fans before the June release of their debut album, Perch Patchwork. Though they are often described as 'math rock', the awkward label does not quite do them justice. Take the shifting world-music rhythms of Paul Simon, throw in wildly flickering angular riffs balanced against mellow folksy guitar, and front the project by a second-cousin to Jim James' aching southern-drenched yowl, and you are close to their oddly compelling sound. You would be tempted to hear the wiry, frantic guitars and sharp-turns of the beats and label them progressive, but their strong pop sensibilities made it feel more engaging than what you normally find in music this complex and experimental.

Maps & Atlases somehow succeeded at being the best of both worlds in indie pop and prog-rock, inserting just enough of their jam band tendencies and mesmerizing guitar skills, making their upcoming debut LP a must-hear. In the course of their half-hour set, they won over the room to the point that a large portion of the crowd were dancing and clapping along. Maps & Atlases were refreshingly unique and challenging, proving to be a strangely addictive band worth keeping an eye on in the world of indie rock.

Scotland's finest export, Frightened Rabbit took the stage for the first time in Chicago as a five-piece; having added guitarist Gordon Skene while recording The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. The band opened the show big, with the steady surge from quiet angst that greets "Skip The Youth" to its thrashing conclusion. They made excellent use of the added member on "The Modern Leper" by wisely throwing four guitars at the shaggy crowd-pleasing opener from their 2008 masterpiece, The Midnight Organ Fight, with, front man, Scott Hutchison passionately bleeding out the emotional lyrics. It is Hutchinson's way of urgently belting out the songs as if it were the first time he sung them that keeps Frightened Rabbit so fresh. Even songs like, the piano thrusting plea for loving, "The Twist" feel different and vibrant each time you see the band live because of how willing Hutchison is to throw himself into the songs.

As wonderful as Hutchison is, as evidenced by his haunting encore-opening solo-acoustic performance of "Poke", the band's layered guitars and slamming beats by brother Grant Hutchison hit just as hard as the biting lyrics. The enthusiastic, sold-out crowd needed no cue to jump in on the clap-a-long beat of explosive anthem "The Loneliness And The Scream", where the web of riffs filled the venue brilliantly. Skene worked an extra drum on the right of the stage for "The Wrestle", though Hutchison's expressive, thundering drum skills needed no help. The band did an excellent job with the set list, nailing just about everything they could to please the fans in the hour-and-fifteen-minutes. It was unfortunate to get nothing off their debut, but when the last two albums you release eclipse it by such a large margin, it is hard to argue with the decision.

Hutchison announced, calmly swaying break-up tune, "Swim Until You Can't See Land" as one he wrote after watching The Wackness. The band delivered spiteful rebound rocker "Nothing Like You" with frantically sprayed riffs shooting around the cathartic hook. The blood-pumping shimmy of "Head Rolls Off" and bitter waltz of "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms" left the crowd too riled up to leave; though the stomping "Living In Colour" and thumping, organ-humming plea, "It takes more than f*cking someone to keep yourself warm", of "Keep Yourself Warm" would do nothing to settle them down. The soul-baring, dazzling songs come through too loud and clear live to send anyone home calm.

At one point, Hutchison took stock of the largest venue they have played in Chicago and commented, "This is still kind of big for us". They had better get used to it, because the crowds will only swell as more get wind of just how fantastic a live band they are. Frightened Rabbit is one of the most honest and exciting bands going, and should not be missed at all costs. Next stop here, on their ascent to indie rock royalty, is Lollapalooza. After that, who knows what size venues they will be filling, but we can assure you that their sound and live chops are more than ready for stadiums.

Skip The Youth
The Modern Leper
Old Old Fashioned
The Loneliness And The Scream
The Wrestle
The Twist
Swim Until You Can't See Land
My Backwards Walk
Nothing Like You
Head Rolls Off
Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms

Living In Colour
Keep Yourself Warm

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