Frightened Rabbit fearlessly take on Philadelphia

Matilda Swartz

 Times are good for animal bands. The latest subculture permeating music is caged within the interspecies web of Animal Collective, Band of Horses, Deerhunter, Gorillaz, Wolf Parade and multiple classifications of panda. 

Perhaps unknowing of the taxonomy trend, Frightened Rabbit has unassumingly wedged its way into the music zoo. With three records spurned since 2006 and a handful of successfully recorded covers, the Scottish quintet has been steadily climbing the food chain of folksy, facially-haired endeavors. 

The release of their latest LP back in April, “Winter of Mixed Drinks,” has boosted them from independent artist prey to internationally credible predator of song.

Band founder, singer and lead guitarist Scott Hutchison is establishing himself on the humbler side of the front-man spectrum — or maybe he’s just timid. Hutchison admits that the band’s name was bequeathed by his own mother, who coined her son a “frightened rabbit” due to his unshakable aversion to social interaction as a child — but he’s working on it.

 On record and on stage, the quiet disposition translates into a guy who you would want to chat with over an imported beer, knowing that he’s either going to produce a poignant rant about the fairer sex or formulate a seasoned opinion on the state of society. If either fails to materialize, he could end up playing his guitar (a skill he’s been honing since the prime age of 11). And that would still be sufficient.

Two weeks ago, Frightened Rabbit graced Philadelphia with a Thursday night stint at the easily-camouflaged Starlight Ballroom. 

The band took the stage by 10:30, after solid but short showings by fellow Scots in the Phantom Band and a Canadian trio, Plants & Animals.

 The Glasgow five have an unsurprisingly no-frills approach to stage presence. They strolled on stage (each unshaven, Hutchison with a Mr. Monopoly mustache in tow) and transitioned into “Things” off of “Winter of Mixed Drinks.”

Hutchinson’s unconventional, significantly accented voice filled the Starlight’s drafty space for over 90 minutes of inner-ear defying sound and copious sweat.

 Despite being told by music teachers throughout high school to stick to the strings and skip the vocals, he led himself down a path of rebellion after listening to the endearing imperfections of voices like Jeff Mangum’s (of the defunct Neutral Milk Hotel). 

Citing other references from the ubiquitous Dylan to “Wilco’s entire back catalog” and a slew of across-the-ponders, Hutchison seems pleased with where his gravelly twang has positioned himself and his band mates. 

While following the obligatory tour law that dictates a certain fraction of set list be allotted to the newest album, Frightened Rabbit managed to pay ample homage to their second and arguably best album, 2008’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.” 

The crowd could not have been stomping any louder in tempo when all ears were met with the opening banjo-imitative riff of “Old Old Fashioned.”  

Audiences cannot help but empathize with the emotion splattered on the middle child of Rabbit’s records, a 14-track opus to a former relationship and the lady who ruined it all.

Hutchison is well aware of his heartbreak-heavy tendencies from earlier in the band’s anthology, but he’s striving for a broader songwriting perspective. 

“My life, for the sake of a record, is not particularly interesting,” he says. “I’m looking more at the world at large rather than myself.” 

The band has only just embarked upon its tour of the States and has an extensive European itinerary ahead before they set up post-Christmas camp in the studio. 

All listeners have left to do is wait. Philadelphians in attendance at the Starlight stint can survive off of the warm memory of a three-part encore.

 Even if Scott has “exhausted [his] own personal well,” the night’s moving rendition of love lament “The Twist” leads the most hopeful fan to wonder otherwise.

 Tribulations of touring, mainstreaming effects and worldly lyric inclinations aside, he may have a little more ill-fated romance left in him.The intensity continued through a number of “The Midnight Organ Fight” songs, including “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” “My Backwards Walk” and “Keep Yourself Warm.”