Owl John by Sylvia Borgo

Live Review and Photos: Owl John at the Casbah, June 18, 2014

Owl John by Sylvia Borgo
Photos by Sylvia Borgo

Frightened Rabbit lead singer Scott Hutchison played the Casbah on June 18 in support of his upcoming solo album, Owl John. He played mostly Frightened Rabbit songs at the show, though, because he was “supposed to finish the solo album but I fucking didn’t.”

The Scottish songwriter has an amazing talent for writing about heavy subjects like heartbreak, loneliness, and drugs — while at the same time framing these lyrics against upbeat instrumentation. People unfamiliar with Hutchison’s live show might expect a dark affair, but this couldn’t be further from the truth: the humor in his performance is often what stands out the most, and his stage presence could be described as part music, part standup.

Hutchison kicked off his set with “Old, Old Fashioned,” and the enthusiastic crowd sang along to every word. As a matter of fact, the audience sang so well that Hutchison remarked, “It is pretty good actually…There’s been some really jazzy interpretations of that bit, depending on how late we are playing and in what city.”

The gracious Hutchison also took requests throughout the evening: “Take a number and then request your favorite song.” When one audience member yelled out, “Snake,” and Hutchison replied, “We are about an hour away from Snake.” When another shouted, “Architect,” Hutchison informed him, “This guy has a ticket before you. But it is coming right after ‘Snake’ and it is going to suck…there is falsetto stuff in that one. I can’t hit those notes when I am wasted!”

When he played “Old Scottish Winds,” Hutchison remarked, “I lived in Scotland all my life…You know how you just live somewhere and you know how things work and then you move somewhere else and you don’t even understand? Back home…I go to the post office, I want to send a package abroad, I put a little sticker on it…and it finds its way there. I go to the post office in Los Angeles, I have to fill out three separate forms. I have to do a photocopy of my dick. Do they do that to all of you guys?”

Hutchison also played some new material, and he introduced one song by saying, “The record is out on August 5 and it does exist. It just took forever.” An audience member shouted back, “As everything in L.A.,” and Hutchison responded, “No, I didn’t even do that. I did it in Scotland. It is not like I recorded it in my car.” Then, he imagined if he had recorded the album in his car: “Traffic was a nightmare. There are lots and lots of honks on the record. Just atmosphere, you know.”

Before playing “Floating in the Forth,” Hutchison recalled, “It was seven or eight years ago that I thought I wanted to kill myself. And it is a dumb idea. I don’t think it is a good idea, so I wrote a song about how it is not a good idea.”

As the set began to wind down, Hutchison said, “I will play songs until I am dragged off…or until you stop clapping.” The audience erupted into loud applause, and he responded, “If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands, I guess. Okay, now shut the fuck up.”

As he played his final songs, Hutchison expressed a genuine love of the Casbah and San Diego: “I’ve said this since the first time we played this venue…it’s one of my favorites in the world. You know when you play a lot of venues, they start to become the same? This place will never be the same as anywhere else — I mean that. This is a wonderful place. Thank you so much for coming tonight.” Hutchison closed the set with “Keep Yourself Warm,” a song that many had requested repeatedly throughout the evening.

Despite lacking all of the rich production for which Frightened Rabbit albums are known, Hutchison had no trouble delivering a massive sound. This shows that the right artist and the right songs can still carry just as much weight solo as on a well-produced recording. The setup also forced a camaraderie between Hutchison and the audience, a connection that rarely occurs — and isn’t easy to pull off.

Fellow Scotsman Withered Hand opened for Owl John and introduced his first song by saying, “I was in California in 2011 and I was tripping on cough medicine on accident. This is off my new album, which is called California.”

The songwriter, whose given name is Dan Willson, clearly enjoyed performing by himself at the Casbah. He had a very witty and self-deprecating sense of humor. When remarking on the small crowd that had gathered to see him, he said “Is there a pub crawl going on? Oh, I see. You are here to see Scott.”

Wilson’s setlist included the titular song from his new album as well as “Black Tambourine,” “Horseshoe,” and others. When introducing “Horseshoe,” Wilson said, “This is my favorite song off [California] seeing how you asked.” At the end of the song, he explained, “It was about love, not boxing, in case anyone was wondering.”

Photos: Owl John at the Casbah

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