The Phantom Band - Frightened Rabbit invited this band from Glasgow to join them tonight and I hope the half-full club was as appreciative as I was. The set was quite creative as I had the always fun challenge of trying to figure out where they get their influences from. I am not sure I ever did come up with a good idea, although I heard some Manchester sound with a bit of Ian Curtis perhaps, but then they weave in guitar heavy songs or keyboards led rhythmic tunes. There was an excellent song with woodblock percussion and one that was a slow building krautrock masterstroke which completely won me over. The singer had a droll presence which fit the set. I was a little frustrated early with the bass being up to high, but thankfully the sound man worked it out very well. A clear-cut winner here with great sound and that always hard to achieve balance of creativity and accessibility. This is a band to watch out for, at least in my world.
Plants and Animals - Another regular on this tour is this trio from Montreal. They lined up with guitar, bass and drums, but the bassist strapped on a guitar 4-5 times and once went back in forth in the same song. Interestingly enough, he played the more creative guitar parts. As for the set, I thought they started rather slow and I thought I was due for 45 minutes of noodling introspective angular pop music. And the first couple of songs really weren't connecting. But they shifted things around nicely and got a bit more push with the remaining songs, mixing in various rock or pop moves along the way. I think the rapidly filling club agreed with me as they were respectful, but very quiet in between songs (which despite my gripes about crowd noise is the time where they will never annoy me with their noise). The guitarist/lead vocalist even commented on the silence, but the band was church-quiet as well. By set's end, the crowd joined me in enjoying this band a little bit more as the respectful applause became a bit more enthusiastic. This was a safer set than the first one tonight, but ultimately a good one.
Frightened Rabbit - From Glasgow (via Selkirk) Scotland, this five piece continues its powerful surge upward in both popularity and quality playing. I missed them a few years back as their Rock'n'Roll Hotel show sold out too quickly. Not making the same mistake, I bought a ticket for the Black Cat show this past April 27th just to be sure. That one also sold out, thus showing DC that they are ready for a four-figure audience at the 9:30 Club. And although not sold out prior to showtime, the show had to have been near-sell out as there was the usual wall-wall mob of enthusiastic fans. I had no doubt that this band could handle the bigger hall and they did so quite easily. What I really like about this band is that they have a great balanced style. Instead of going out of bounds into wild new sonic space, they stay within comfortable formats, but do so in a personal and skillful way. That frankly, is so much harder to do well than to create some 25 minute jam or 25 one-minute hyper-hc blasts (as much as I love those sounds as well). Many bands can slip into some sort of simple Americana or indie rock, but I just did not feel that anywhere tonight. And if a Eurpean band doesn't touch Americana, I figure their quieter moments might slip into Celtic folk-rock. But that was not present either. It was simply personal pop-rock songs that were subtly varied from outright rockers to timeless pop tunes. The band's leader Scott Hutchinson (the band started as a solo project ala Dungen, Porcupine Tree etc.) did a few solo songs on acoustic guitar during the set and in the encore. The crowd pretty much dug the whole set and the rapport was good with some good stage patter as well. There are several hot bands in recent years that I find deserving like this band and the Decemberists (well they have been hot for a while) and there are a few that I don't personally go in for (Band of Horses, Bon Iver). I am not sure I can ever quite figure out the reasons, but I will just call it like I hear it. And tonight was further evidence that this band is doing all the right things and working hard to present their music all over the world. I hope they keep it up.
Quote of the Night - (There were a few but I lost my notes) From the opening vocalist... "Thank you for coming out. Enjoy the rest of the bands tonight and enjoy the rest of your lives as who knows if we will ever be back."