Saturday, January 24, 2009

Huddled Penguins In The Presence Of Greatness

Last week I saw one of the best shows I have seen in the last few years: Frightened Rabbit at Johnny Brenda’s. Yes, I admit to a well-developed infatuation with these gentlemen from Scotland. However, that night it was fairly clear that the admiration was mutual as they put on a show that let the crowd (who braved the chilly Philly temps to see them play) know that the really appreciate them as well. Before I get into the review of the show I must comment on the factors that made it more than just a fantastic concert but an incredible experience. First, the tickets were affordable, the venue small and FR’s sound was clear and balanced. Second, they set up quickly and at a decent time (1145) not pulling any headliner diva bull shit making it clear they had respect for the waiting audience. Finally, they actually listened to their opening acts from the crowd. They are still new enough that they can pull that off without too many people noticing or bothering them. I, of course, twitterpatted a spot when I recognized all four fellas standing around me taking in the openers. And, no I didn’t talk to them. Possibly a missed opportunity but I don’t like talking over live music especially when its good and I didn’t really know what to say with such a stunted moment. I can report they were gracious to the few folks who gushed over them once they recognized who they were (usually after hearing them speak). I still think it was pretty fab to simply have shared a moment when we were all just listening to music together.

But, folks the performer audience dynamic that followed was one of those I will not soon forget.

At the outset Scott (the lead singer) mentioned they weren't accustomed to sold out audiences and they would do their best to repay our attendance. As with the show I saw last fall their stage presence was very natural and there timing and rhythm incredibly tight. As they worked their way through the majority of their published tracks -- The Twist, Old Old Fashioned, Good Arms vs Bad Arms-- there was no sense of boredom or routine. They rocked the entire time, genuinely and with true fun.
I was totally delighted to hear them play Backwards Walk amongst the rest. Its one of my favorite songs and they gave a bit pared down spin. Playing up the guitar to match the hollowness of the organ without diminishing it. It was exceptional. The fellas even threw in a few of their older unreleased bits and while its obvious they have grown a lot its was nice to see them playing around with their set list. After an hour of rollicking good fun they left gradually left the stage one by one leaving the drummer (Billy I believe his name is) to take them out with a bang. Had it ended their I would have been plenty pleased but the crowd wasn't about to let them leave without an encore.

Scott came back on stage alone, guitar in hand, and played a solo version of Poke. Standing in front of the amps and mics it was a breath takingly gorgeous rendition. So simple yet filled with the emotion the lyrics convey. Its rare to have such an intimate moment at a rock show but is perhaps one of the reasons I like FR so much, they're emotional while still managing to be fun and catchy. I cannot wait for their next stop in town and to hear what they will have to offer on their next release.

Frightened Rabbit MySpace Links

Good Arms vs Bad Arms

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Telephant: The Best British Band To Hail From Nashville

I recently received an album from a friend of mine who is a v. talented (cough Grammy winner) music producer in Nashville. This is someone whose music tastes and extensive knowledge I have always respected. Mike was also a factor in some of my earliest music junky memories (his views on Peter Gabriel’s Sledge Hammer video stick out in particular). I was truly excited when he sent me a copy of Asleep In The Green, the album he just finished with a band called Telephant.

Telephant is a group based in Nashville, although after my first listen to the album I could have sworn they were British. On song such as Anne Frank, 1000 Violins and the title track Asleep In Green have clean slightly chamber popish arrangements that suggest the Walkmen. They show real chops when they push these talents to achieve a larger sound on songs like Songs For An Ancestral Alien and Robespierre. On these two tracks they build a sound and weave the lyrics into the entire sound an art mastered by the likes of Radiohead and Coldplay (two obvious influences on the group).

Telephant is also lyrically smart they don’t try too hard to be overly witty or verbose, as I said their strength is weaving their compositions and their words together to achieve a whole sound, when they toss in phrases like “In all of the kismet and proverbs and visions of the famed Holy Ghost and these strange superstitions” it tacks your ear to the lyrics forcing you to recognize there is more than just a great arrangement playing out.

If these tracks were the entirety of the record I would say they have a good chance of making a name for themselves with the current indie crowd. However they have spiced the album’s sound up with Botswanna a track that incorporates some Afro Pop elements to compliment the sound they brand on the rest of the album. The reach towards experimentation is done with comfort and to such a degree that it doesn’t tear the fabric of the album as a whole. It also suggests these fellas are drawing from a diverse range of inspiration, not just trying to be the next Coldplay. I can’t help but go full circle and suggest the influence of Peter Gabriel on this track as well as Rhythm Of The Sant’s era Paul Simon. While I’m not entirely sure Afro Pop is the direction they should be headed I genuinely appreciated the stylistic curiosity.

For a first album there are real signs of promise on Asleep In Green. If the boys of Telephant can enhance their recorded sound with a solid live show and maintain their curiosity while evolving to a more defined identity they could rightfully claim their place in the indie race. I would like to see them explore the subtle steel guitar/alt country tinge I began to notice after a few listens. Regardless, I look forward to seeing them live and would suggest you seek them out as well. Links
Anne Frank
Fifth Ace of Anchors
Telephant MySpace