Owl John– Oslo, London
(Aug 6, 2014)
Just this month, Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit was reincarnated as an “Owl”, Owl John that is. He hoots, “It’s been about ten years since I had the notion to add the word ‘Owl’ as a middle name. Scott Owl John Hutchison. I thought it had a really splendid flow to it. I suppose I enjoy owls as much as most people, admiring their weird neck thing and having read ‘Plop’ countless times as a wee one. I don’t buy the wisdom bit, but they are incredibly good at being owls and it would be nice to be as effective at being a human. Sadly, I’m not and it is from this croaking foible that songs come. The desperate crunch of failure sat right next to the fizzing, spumante spark of joy. They cackle and point at each other because they don’t understand their opponent. You will find me sitting between them, eating a bag of nuts (not Brazils, they make my mouth itch) and documenting the whole sorry episode.” On August 4th, Owl John took flight with the release of his self-titled debut album and landed in London (Oslo) two days later for the album launch. The album was produced by Andy Monaghan of Frightened Rabbit and Simon Liddell of Olympic Swimmers, but John only made space for one animal during this tour. Next time, we hope to see owls AND rabbits sharing the stage, hooting all sort of Scottish song.
Just like with Frightened Rabbit, Owl John‘s honest, raw, and heartbreaking tunes is what make him stand out among other indie rock contenders. With only two days of listening to the album prior to the London gig (SOLD OUT), I had already known most of the songs by heart, and was already slayed by some of Scott’s more heartfelt confessionals: A Good Reason to Grow Old, Los Angeles Be Kind, Ten Tons of Silence and Stupid Boy. By the time the Twilight Sad (always a pleasure) came on stage to open, Oslo was already jam-packed with FRabbit fans and the room was already at full capacity. This was to be expected though since Frightened Rabbit nearly sold out the O2 Brixton Academy back in February, the O2 Brixton being TEN TIMES the size of Oslo. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tickets sold out in a matter of hours
The first song of the night (Hate Music) was one of my favorites off the Owl John album, and although I love the growling guitar in this one (see video below), but I would have really enjoyed Billy or Andy’s base chasing up this growling like it does on the record. I really do hope Frightened Rabbit plays some Owl John songs on their next tour!
Next came Modern Leper, and Scott told the crowd that he would alternate between new (Owl John) and old (Frightened Rabbit) songs, welcoming requests from the audience. Of course this stirred up all sorts of crowd competition, and fans were making a mad dash to the bar to get Scott drinks in exchange for their favorite song request. One guy even got him his favorite aged malt-whiskey with hopes that he would play Architect, which was my request too, but he said that he couldn’t because Andy (of Manchester Orchestra) wasn’t there; I still thought he would been able to do it without him…bit of a bummer! Next up was Los Angeles, Be Kind, another one of my favorites from Owl John. Scott dedicated this one to his girlfriend. “Some nights I can’t figure out quite where your heart is… Oh Los Angeles be kind… No more trouble or red lights, I can learn to love you in good time…Oh, Los Angeles be kind.”
I LOVE the idea behind this song, addressing Los Angeles as if it were a person (and a jerk, at that). And, even though I find it hard to believe that Scott learned to “love” Los Angeles, he apparently DID. He told us last night that it was his one-year anniversary with his girlfriend who lives out there, and that he’s basically living there now too. “Having disliked Los Angeles a lot, it’s grown on me – and she’s the reason for that.” I’m shock and amazed all at the same time. She must be a very special lady!
Red Hand was the next new song, and just like Hate Music, I love the guitar rhythms but yearn for the additional depth present on the album as a result from other instruments: keys, drums, and lead guitar. I always smirk when he sings, “There’s a boy in your pocket and a pig in your bed.” (soooo good) Sticking to his word, Scott played an old favorite (The Wrestle) before continuing on with a new one. The next new one was Good Reason to Grow Old, which I find to be the heaviest on the album. Scott prefaced this one as a song that was partially (one-third) written by their tech/producer Simon “in the back”, and that he deserves a big round of applause. He jokes, “It just so happens that I’m the egotistical maniac that wants to take all the credit. He’s too nice for that.” Brutal, fearless, sentimental, grateful, enlightening. It’s hard to thread all of those provocative emotions into one song, but Scott manages to do so, and you don’t know whether to smile or cry. By the end, you just want to go up and give Scott a big giant hug: “I was ready to drown in the after-life….Not anymore. Now I’ve finally found a good reason to grow old. (his girl ♥)…Oh, how she murders my thought…(tears welling up)….Oh, how she plunges a knife into the suicide in my blood…(f*ck)…Oh, how she plunges a knife into the suicide and I AM BORN. (smile)
I guess Scott hasn’t missed those Scottish winds very much since being in sunny California, because he prefaces this song by saying, “I don’t even live in Scotland anymore…Fuck it..I live in Los Angeles now.” (Still so hard to believe!) Scottish Winds is another top Frightened Rabbit track for me; I love all the metaphors and the personification of Scotland’s elements (winds, rain, smoke, blood), and my favorite verse has got to be the one about Scottish blood:
“Come burl around my body, Scottish blood
I’ll try not to spill a drop
Oh, I’m sure you’ve spilled enough
And the English fucking rule (Rawr!)
Who mean nothing to these times
Ah, run forever in my veins Bold Scottish blood..” (They do have some of the boldest blood out there!)
Twist, Holy, and State Hospital were some of the other oldie but goodies to surface next. A few songs earlier, Scott was talking about his “snake” (we can all know what that is), and so he when he got to the “state” hospital part, he stopped and laughed: “I was about to say “snake” hospital. Haha.” We all enjoyed the EPIC performance of this Frightened Rabbit favorite, and could not help shout along with the lyrics. “Saturday’s uniform for the ‘Fuck-me’ parade…” is especially cathartic.
Next up was Square 9. This heartfelt confessional of a LOVE SONG basically turned into a COMEDY HOUR when a group of drunk “lads” decided to obnoxiously chime in at the wrong time, and with the wrong rhythms. At first, Scott thought it was kinda funny and says, “You can do Billy’s part…It’s a fucking brilliant part…It’s as if Billy is with us now…” I was cracking up (ans you can hear it) at that last comment. But, at about 3:15, shit hits the fan and Scott starts shaking his head, looking REALLY pissed off: “You came in a bit early man..I’m assuming that happens to you quite often…You know seriously….When we first started playing this song to audiences, it was just heart-broken bearded guys…THEN, THE LADS start coming to the shows…Yes I’m telling you to maybe SHUT THE FUCK UP…It’s nice of you to interact, but you’re not sober, CLEARLY.” (Go Scott!) It was such a witty, amicable way to deal with what could have been a brutal situation. He was so good humored about it, and stayed really patient the entire way through. The last verse of this song slays me…so freaking adorable. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, but in the least “sappiest” of ways. It’s a fine art, but Scott’s surely got a handle on that canvas. “Forget about square two, There was no me and you…Just like square one, Where we fell in love, Under the tree, Forget about square three, Oh that wasn’t me. Like square one, Where we fell in love, Forget about square five, I was only half alive.” xxx
Ending the set with If You Were Me, Scott teases us as we anxiously await his return on stage for an encore. And what an EPIC ENCORE it was! Woodpile and Oil Slick are two of my Pedestrian Verse favorites, and it was truly a double-whammy that he kicked off the encore playing those back-to-back. The guitar part for Oil Slick was really fun to watch (a bit different from how he plays it with the full band), and wish I would have gotten that on video. Oh well. I was hoping desperately that Scott would play Stupid Boy, Song about Roses (reminds me of a song by the National), Cold Creeps from the new album, these songs have lots of percussion/keys/backing vocals, and it might be better to wait and hear them with the full band. The final FINAL song of the 30 min encore was Poke, and Scott encouraged vocal support from the audience during the chorus. “All we can ask is that you try your best…I can’t sing, I’ve just been TRYING MY BEST for the past 10 years,” he says. As if we couldn’t admire that humble Rabbit Owl even more…(too much). Scott’s last set of oooo–ooo–oooo’s make for a very happy ending. HOOT HOOT. 😉
**Set List**: 1) Hate Music 2) Modern Leper 3) Lose Angeles, Be Kind 4) Fuck This Place 5) Red Hand 6) The Wrestle 7) Good Reason to Grow Old 8) Scottish Winds 9) Unreleased OJ Song 10) Old Fashioned 11) Ten Tones of Silence 12) Footshooter 13) The Twist 14) Holy 15) State Hospital 16) Square 9 17) Floating In The Forth 18) If You Were Me (Encore) 19) The Woodpile 20) Oil Slick 21) The Loneliness And The Scream 22) Snake 23) Poke
Los Angeles, Be Kind:
A Good Reason to Grow Old: