Small acts, big music: Frightened Rabbit and Augustines perform in Boston

Indie rock comes to Paradise Rock Club

by KATHARINE MALLARY ’17, Contributing Writer

On Oct. 21 and 22, the Scottish indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit played at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The two opening acts were The Philistines Jr., from Bridgeport, Conn., and Augustines, from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Philistines Jr., an act composed of two brothers, Peter and Tarquin Katis, and their friend Adam Pierce, had the difficult job of being the warm-up to the warm-up, and played to a sparse crowd early in the evening. However, they did not do so without a sense of humor. The band taped “Phili”-stines “Jr.,” written on printer paper in ballpoint pen, over the decorated drum, changing “Augustines,” the name of the previous act.

The Philistines Jr. were clearly and unabashedly the elder statesmen of the lineup. (Peter reminisced about opening for the indie rock act Guster at the same club, in the 1990s, right around when most Wellesley juniors were born.) They played a selection of heavily anecdotal and ironic songs with quirky titles, including “If I Did Nothing But Train For Two Years, I Bet I Could Be In the Olympics.” Joking and interacting with the audience, The Philistines Jr. played some funny songs but, more importantly, established a warm rapport with the audience as they stepped out of the cold and into the venue.

Augustines, a three-person group consisting of lead singer/vocalist Billy McCarthy, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson and drummer Rob Allen, took the room’s good energy left over from The Philistines Jr. and cracked it into lightning. McCarthy jumped and screamed along with a series of songs that seemed well suited to emotionally loaded scenes in action movies.

The audience was up and moving from the start of the first song, and only lost momentum for a few seconds—to take a hard look at McCarthy’s square Irish frame stuffed into a denim jacket and topped with a fedora, each a size too small. Excepting a few moments when Augustines seemed to be trying just a bit too hard to prove themselves, they did a great job of waking up the crowd with their runaway ballads like “Headlong into the Abyss” and “The Chapel Song.”

In a moment that truly spoke to the globalization of today’s indie rock scene, when the Augustines vacated the stage for Frightened Rabbit—a band that has never achieved as much fame in its native United Kingdom as it has in the United States—the crowd stood silent, focused and practically desperate for the first few chords to begin. To say Frightened Rabbit is an intense act is an understatement. Best known for their heavily lyrical, extremely well written anthems, the band attracts followers who tend to be dramatically devoted.

Frightened Rabbit’s lyrics have addressed everything from religion in the modern day (“Head Rolls Off”) to the fragility of the modern relationship (“The Modern Leper” and “Keep Yourself Warm”) to questions of poverty and mental health (“State Hospital”). The band’s newest album, Pedestrian Verse, certainly doesn’t disappoint the fans who lived for the dark, artful, hopeful crescendo of music and lyrics that has typified Frightened Rabbit’s work throughout their previous three albums.

Scott Hutchison, the band’s frontman, put on exactly the show that Frightened Rabbit’s longtime fans had hoped for, with the set list carefully changed from the night before to accommodate the large number of fans who came for both nights of the show, and interspersed with selections from each of their four albums.

The first question new fans of Frightened Rabbit ask is “but, do they have any happy songs?” While their music often begins in a dark place, the other constant in their music is the rising, vital undercurrent of hope, optimism and self-acceptance. And, surely enough, they played songs that reflect a common theme in their work: the road to self-acceptance (“I Feel Better,” “Holy”).

However, the most upbeat part of the show came when Frightened Rabbit, the foreigners in a lineup of American musicians, welcomed the previous two acts back onstage to sing the last chorus of their final song (“The Loneliness and The Scream.”) Clearly enamored of the energy and enthusiasm in the room, Hutchison closed the show smiling, promising “next time we come to Boston, we’ll stay a week.”

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