There's something pathologically British to the art of spinning gallows humour out of abject misery, and Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison out-humours and out-miserys his countrymen with startling efficiency. Renewed in focus with excellent new EP State Hospital, the Scotsmen's set nonetheless leaned heavily on The Midnight Organ Fight, their 2008 masterpiece, which looks increasingly like the great Scottish breakup album.
The quintet took the stage amid inebriated uproar from the sold-out Mod Club, Hutchison looking as authentically weary and bedraggled as ever. "It's been a while since we've been in Toronto. Thanks for not forgetting about us," he began, before rediscovering his ego for roaring renditions of "A Modern Leper" and "Old Old Fashioned." It's rousingly literate music that folk of a certain age and social set will find impossible to describe without using words like "just," "so" and "amazing," probably in immediate succession. And such people were in fine voice, heartily fulfilling the request for a chorus of "ahhh's" during a resplendent "Swim Until You Can't See Land." But don't be fooled: fluffy, sensitive-male-with-guitar schtick this is not. "State Hospital" churns with cacophonous elegance and brutal imagery, while "Head Rolls Off" effectively tackles with optimistic hues the issue of humankind's ultimate purpose: "While I'm alive, I'll make tiny changes to Earth."
Despite being well into an exhaustive, continent-spanning tour, Hutchison, like any great entertainer, contorted and yelled his larynx into pretty oblivion, singing as if it were not only his last performance but last living moment. Following a helpful disclaimer ("one of the flaps in my vocal chords doesn't meet the other one," he explained, "so I've essentially got a loose vagina in my throat"), they slid into poignant, acoustic renderings of "Poke" and "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms," causing the most emotionally vulnerable to awkwardly mimic and guffaw at the vocal acrobatics.
Through the wit and eloquence, Hutchison might come across as lonely and misplaced as the disco ball spinning from the venue's ceiling. But as the band departed the stage, he broke the furtive, genuine smile of a man relieved, at least till tomorrow night, of some profound psychological weight. It was nothing less than cockle-warming.