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Review: Frightened Rabbit, The Cluny, Newcastle

Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.
Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.

Tuesday night saw The Cluny pull off its latest coup, as it welcomed indie favourites Frightened Rabbit for a special warm-up show ahead of an eagerly awaited UK tour.

With gigs at Manchester’s Ritz, Glasgow’s O2 Academy and London’s Forum to follow, the Scots are set to play to audiences up to 10 times the size of that which crammed into the Ouseburn venue.

Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.

Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.

It was little surprise then, that the show took barely an hour to sell out, nor that many had travelled from far and wide to attend. This, after all, is no ordinary Frightened Rabbit tour.

With its 10th anniversary falling next month, the group have decided to revisit their seminal album The Midnight Organ Fight; a record which plucked them from obscurity and remains unquestionably their defining moment.

They’ve released three excellent (and far more commercially successful) LPs since, but none have captured listeners’ hearts to anything like the same extent as this cult milestone.

In many ways it’s an archetypal break-up album. Even within this tumultuous sub-genre, however, there are few which bear comparison – not least to main man Scott Hutchinson’s words, which dissect his heartbreak and mental frailty in some of the most brutal and explicit terms imaginable.

Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.

Frightened Rabbit playing at The Cluny. Pic: Mark Grainger.

It’s certainly not a cycle you’d want to dive straight in to, so the decision to kick-start proceedings with a handful of later cuts feels like a wise one.

Even so, Living In Colour, Holy and I Wish I Was Sober prove a curious opening. They’re all fine songs, but tonight they come across as mere pleasantries – like small talk prior to a deep, gut-wrenching conversation.

Inevitably, the atmosphere transforms the instant Hutchinson strums the opening chords of The Modern Leper, and the stone-cold classic which follows is one of the most cathartic live moments I’ve witnessed in years.

From here on in, each and every lyric is bellowed en masse back in his direction; from the tidings of jealousy and regret which make up Good Arms vs. Bad Arms to The Twist and Keep Yourself Warm’s tales of empty, passionless encounters.

The most crushing blows of all, however, are saved for the album’s home straight. “These shows have been weird…” Hutchinson muses: “Never, under any circumstances would we put these two songs together in an ordinary set!”

The couplet he’s referring to is that of Poke and Floating in the Fourth. The former he performs solo amid spellbound silence, and is one of the most intimate and devastating laments to lost love you’re ever likely to hear. The latter, meanwhile, captures the singer at his lowest ebb, as he contemplates (and ultimately resists) a suicidal leap from the Fourth Road Bridge.

For their encore, the group reel out The Woodpile and The Loneliness and the Scream, but even these beloved singalongs feel incidental by comparison.

This isn’t to belittle them - there’ll be plenty of future shows where they and other numbers will receive their just dues.

Tonight, though, is all about The Midnight Organ Fight, and the unique opportunity to experience it up close and personal in a small venue.

In practice, it was a show every bit as special as one could have hoped, and one destined to live long in the memories of all present.