Review: Frightened Rabbit; May 22, 2010; Casbah, San Diego

“The Casbah has always been a special place for us,” Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison informed the enthusiastic, sold-out crowd.

It was his band’s third appearance at the quintessential San Diego venue — which he claimed had given them their first headlining gig — and you could tell that his professed love was genuine. The show was the second to last stop on Frightened Rabbit’s US tour, but the smiles on their faces made it clear that it was far from just another gig.

The Glasgow band began their set with the slow build of “Skip the Youth,” off their critically acclaimed new album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Like all the songs the group played Saturday night, it sounded every bit as great as the recorded version, with Hutchison’s billowing brogue buoyed by driving beats, expansive guitars, and the band’s unmistakable backup harmonies.

Frightened Rabbit songs have a way of building upon themselves, with each measure feeling somehow more intense than the last. The anguished anthem “The Modern Leper” — off their Best of 2008-crowned album The Midnight Organ Fight — demonstrated the band’s talent for epic songwriting, and the crowd sang along to every crestfallen lyric.

Nearly every song turned into a shout-along, from the bereft ho-down “Old Old Fashioned” to the radio-friendly single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Hutchison may be known for his sad-bastard lyrics, but the man grinning behind his sweat-soaked bangs looked anything but despondent.

The band moved briskly through its set list, treating the crowd to the resounding catchiness of “Nothing Like You,” the crackling percussion of “My Backwards Walk” and the whale-call waltz of “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.” During their inevitable encore, Hutchison performed a solo, acoustic rendition of “Poke,” his voice lifting to a mournful falsetto over the delicate strums of his guitar.

The rest of the band returned to the stage for a rocking rendition of “Living in Colour” and the grand finale — a stunning performance of “Keep Yourself Warm,” its funereal keyboards and world-weary warning punctured by a kick drum heartbeat. It was a cathartic, explosive finish to an all-around excellent show.

“As our band’s career gets further along, we play larger venues,” Hutchison told the amorous crowd. “But I don’t care if we never stop playing the Casbah.” Judging by their applause, the audience didn’t have a problem with that scenario either.

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