You don’t go to a Frightened Rabbit show expecting to have the most fun night of your life. That’s not to say that Frightened Rabbit isn’t a great band that makes pleasurable music that crowds love. It’s true that the Scottish fivesome are a cohesive unit of music-making expertise. The key distinction is that Frightened Rabbit’s music is a bit of a downer. There are self-deprecating songs about drinking too much, sleeping with the wrong people and spending holidays alone. Scott Hutchinson is a fountain of misery, channeled through a reservoir of knowing humor. That humor is what became most important at last night’s lengthy Bowery Ballroom set, because it provided buoyancy to what could have become a funeral of a show; instead, it was a wake, celebrating the loss and desperation that the band has been cultivating for years.
Let’s go back to that humor. It didn’t take long for Hutchinson to establish a rapport with the sold-out venue. After the opening salvo of The Midnight Organ Fight’s first cut, “The Modern Leper,” Hutchinson waited until the raucous applause ended before cursing his wardrobe choice for the evening. “I was supposed to buy a belt today,” he said. “Obviously, I did not.” A laugh followed, but then something even better happened: a man in the front took off his own belt and tossed it to a shocked but thankful Hutchinson, who put it on (first the wrong way, eliciting some more self-aware banter and laughter) before promising to give it back at the end of the set. Somehow, that anecdote represented what was to come in the following almost-two-hour-long set. Blasting through songs mostly from the aforementioned album and its follow up, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, Hutchinson would weave his joyful sadness (paradoxes are OK when it comes to this band) with banter so self-deprecating that it approached awkwardness, only to pull back at the last second.
Frightened Rabbit can Rock, capital R, on their best days, and last night was one of their best days, it seems. Every song picked up a bit more energy, often adding an outro just to allow the crowd to yell and dance and jump in unified catharsis. After one song, a woman in the crowd yelled happily “ROCK AND ROLL” to which Hutchinson laughed and said, after a pause, “Eh, barely.” This was one moment of self-deprecation that didn’t work, because it was true that the band could bring the house down. Deep cut “Music Now,” from their debut album Sing The Greys, elicited the titular singalong from pretty much every person in the venue, while the highlight of the pre-encore set was the gorgeous “My Backwards Walk,” which trades in resignation to a fate: “You’re the shit, and I’m knee-deep in it.”

It was, however, the encores (multiple, yes) that shone brightest on this cold New York night. First up came a threesome of songs that featured just Hutchinson and his acoustic guitar and his wide smile: “Scottish Winds,” “Poke,” and the crowd-requested “Floating In The Forth.” His guitarist joined him for a rousing performance of “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms,” ending with yet another long and rocking outro that brought the rest of the band back on stage. That energy carried over to the pair of TWOMD tracks that wrapped up this piece of the action: “Living In Colour” was the loudest and most joyous song of the evening, even forming a mini-mosh pit that made Hutchinson laugh after the song was over, and “The Loneliness And The Scream,” whose final singalong (best transcribed as “Whoa oh uh oh”) continued after the band sauntered off. The souls in the Bowery were aligned, hoping for one more burst of raw emotion.
Wouldn’t you know it, Frightened Rabbit obliged, holding tight to that age-old principle of “save the best for last.” That best is the highlight of their career to this day, the infinitely-relatable and heartbreaking “Keep Yourself Warm,” from The Midnight Organ Fight. A tale of coming to grips with the faults of your lifestyle, the song woozes through its own loneliness and scream, ending with the iconic line that this band will be remembered for: “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.” Hearing 500-plus people shout that in unison is enough to make you believe it, and as the crowd filed out, you could tell that everyone would be just a bit better that night.
Frightened Rabbit Setlist:
The Modern Leper
Nothing Like You
Old, Old Fashioned
The Twist
State Hospital
Fast Blood
Music Now
Heads Roll Off
Swim Until You Can’t See Land
Boxing Night
My Backwards Walk
Square 9
Scottish Winds
Floating In The Forth
Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms
Living In Colour
The Loneliness And The Scream
Encore 2:
Keep Yourself Warm