A gallus trifecta of Scottish rock in San Jose

Frightened Rabbit-band-2956Two weeks ago I had the ironic pleasure of seeing three very hip bands in a very unhip locale. This gallus trifecta of Scottish indie rock was almost too good to be true: Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks all on one bill!

I’d heard about this tour early in the summer, and knew it was a show I didn’t want to miss. I’d originally planned to see the show where I see all shows – in San Francisco. Much to my dismay the eagerly anticipated Sea Wolf show was scheduled for the same night. When the chips were down, I knew I’d have to miss the Scottish lads. I was really bummed, I hate these “Sophie’s Choice” moments. The buzz on this Scottish Fat-Cat records tour was huge, and tickets quickly sold out for the San Francisco, Seattle, and LA shows. I was resigned to missing them when much to my surprise I got a press release from Ink Tank. With all the sold out events, they’d added a last minute show in San Jose at The Voodoo Lounge.

San Jose? I can’t think of the last time an indie band played San Jose. Back in High School I used to frequent the Cactus Club, The Oasis, and other San Jose nightspots, but it’s been 20 years. I was willing to give it a try, and I was pretty psyched because I’d been able to arrange a portrait shoot with Frightened Rabbit right before the show. San Jose, here I come!

It took no time to get there, and parking was ample. Score two points for San Jose before the show even began. I arrived at the club a few minutes before nine, and to my surprise, the club hadn’t even opened yet. It was a blessing, because it made it extremely easy to hook up with the tour manager, and pin down all the portrait shoot details. After scouting out the vicinity and consulting the twittersphere, I decided to do the shoot in a quiet alley beside the club. As luck would have it, the alley was filled with a plethora of ladders, so I could even climb up high to shoot from some interesting angles.

The boys of Frightened Rabbit couldn’t have been nicer, and in less than two minutes, the primary objective of the evening was a done deal.

Soon after, the first band of the Night, We Were Promised Jet Packs, took the stage. The vim and vigor of their performance was in stark contrast to the Sea Wolf show I’d seen the night before. As a complement to all three bands, it seems the order of the line-up was completely arbitrary. Any one of these three bands could have been the headliners. In fact at numerous points during the evening, I heard people say it would have suited them just fine if WWPJ or The Twighligh Sad were the headlining.
The crowd was large for Jet Packs, and they put on a superb show. Thompson would often stand a good distance back from the mic and just belt his lyrics with a feroucious passion, intermittently dancing about the stage with the mic in hand, guitar swinging around his thick neck.

For me, The Twilight Sad was the meaty haggis in the middle of this marvelous all-Scottish sandwich.

I love the raw emotion and vulnerability of James Graham’s vocals. He was completely and utterly on another plane as he sang. Instantly Ian Curtis came to mind. It was the same visceral fits of emotion and staring off to places unknown. I was completely taken by the band performance. I’d heard he was a wee bit dreich the night before in San Francisco, but there were no signs of hesitation or drabness this night. Make no mistake: James Graham and all of the boys of The Twilight Sad were in braw form Saturday night.

When I saw James playing wallflower after their set, I couldn’t resist asking for a portrait. To my delight, he was happy to oblige. I quickly dragged him to the same dark alley where I’d captured the Rabbits earlier in the evening. I asked him about what he was doing while he performed on stage. It seemed like he’d been taking a few moments to compose himself, staring off to the heavens before beginning his wailing vocals. He seemed surprised, and a bit embarrassed. “I’m not really sure what I’m doing up there on stage – I’m just singing.” he confessed. “I’m really not aware of the audience or what’s going on around me.”

I told him how his eyes sparkled when he performed, and he said I was making him blush, so I decided to shut my trap and get on with the task at hand – a portrait. With a quick click click of my shutter I was done, and our little tryst came to a close.

Last up was Frightened Rabbit, and they were in fine form. They premiered a new tune, “Nothing Like You”. Lead Rabbit, Scott Hutchison, is charismatic, and he had plenty of witty banter with the audience. he proclaimed that you could tell alot a about a crowd by the noises they made in-between sets. He proclaimed that we needed a secret San Jose sound, and settled on a high pitched “wheeeeee” that they crowd enthusiastically mimicked. He asked that we use it between all of the songs, but thunderous applause persisted.

I’ve heard that the crowd went wild for Frightened Rabbit in San Francisco, but everyone kept their sanity in San Jose, much to my delight. This out-of-the-way venue was too long of a drive for most San Franciscans so the crowd was enthusiast but completely manageable all night. All three bands freely moved throughout the crowd, and while they were occasionally asked for an autograph, they were generally left to their own devices. It felt like I was at a secret show, and I had an all-access pass.

Cheers bawbag! You’re all glaikit scunners, my Scottish dears!