The Fratellis w/ Airborne Toxic Event & Electric Touch

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Fratellis don't sing opera. They don't roll in an SUV riddled with "bullet holes the size of matzo balls" and hide out in an abandoned restaurant. They don't threaten to puree little kids' hands in a blender if they don't get the information they want… or at least they didn't during their show on September 17th at the Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center in San Francisco. Clearly, these are not the Fratellis I grew up with.

Luckily, what they lacked in large, child-like man-monsters chained to the wall, they made up for with some good old-fashioned, hock-in-yer-face Scottish rock and roll. There wasn't much in the way of stage banter, and what did exist was mostly unintelligible heavily-accented slurring. The Fratellis were mostly about getting down to business and stirring up some chaos in the room.

Drenched in beer, and at times shouted at you like you are the Fratellis' only hope, the songs are so fucking familiar. You know, that one from that movie with the Shaun of the Dead guy, and that one from that video game that you were addicted to last summer. The Fratellis have been hanging out with you this whole time, and you didn't even realize it.

The songs translate well to the live show. What sounds polished and maybe even a little over-produced on record comes off as a drunken sing along in concert. Jon Fratelli seems a little lonely, wailing on his guitar and getting shit off his chest while the crowd hoists a pint and commiserates. Drummer Mince pounds with the fierceness of the guy from the Commitments, keeping the band on task and filling out the vocals with almost ironic harmonies, while Barry Fratelli follows his lead on bass. An additional non-Fratelli named Will pulls double duty on keyboards and guitar, a necessity born of the more complex instrumentation of the band's second album, which features lots of dank piano-bar style keys and deeper layers of guitar. The whole thing comes together sounding like Elvis Costello meets The Soup Dragons, hangs out with Blur for a while, and then ditches them both to get busy with Shane McGowan.

It's almost a shame that the Fratellis have gotten to where they are. Chances are, if you see them, it will be on a huge stage in a cavernous room full of adoring fans, like this show. It felt awkward, and I get the feeling that they're probably more comfortable in the corner of a dark pub, taking the stage after midnight and after way too many beers. Some of the songs make you want to swing your glass back and forth, screaming the words you know and loudly mumbling the ones you don't. Others make you want to shove the guy next to you off his stool. They're fun and rowdy and loud, and they bring a feeling of accomplishment and credibility to modern garage rock.

From the moment the Clash faded out of the house speakers and the Fratellis opened their set with "Tell Me a Lie" from their latest album Here We Stand, to the noisy and tumultuous ending of "Baby Fratelli" from their first album, the band threw just about everything they had at an eager crowd, who stomped and bounced and demanded more. The slop-ish '50s rock sounding "Lupe Brown" led nicely in to the ridiculous carnival-like "Henrietta" and started the crowd hopping. The swaying of "Look Out Sunshine!" gave way to the latin-flavored slam dance of "Cuntry Boys and City Girls." From there, the set continued through a great mix of wall-of-guitar-noise indie-punk, lonesome country, and tipsy power pop. "A Heady Tale" sounded like something The Beautiful South could have written, while "Whistle For The Choir" had sort of a Muppet Movie feel to it, and I mean that in a good way. The band stayed tight for most songs, and slopped it up a bit for others. "Flathead," the-so-catchy-it'll-make-you-want-to-blow-your-brains-out iPod commercial hit, was barely recognizable to begin with, but by the first set of "Ba da ba ba da da da"'s, the audience was screaming along, pogoing in unison, and giving a room full of energy back to the band.

The set wound down with "Straggler's Moon," a sort of low-down western with a slightly psychedelic, Beatle-esque chorus that played the Fratellis off in to the sunset with a sort of rock-opera crescendo. It wasn't long, though, before they returned for a quick encore of "Mistress Mabel," from the new album, and "Baby Fratelli," the jittery classic from the first album.

All in all, the Fratellis' show was a wonderful journey through an eclectic mix of fun and furious, melodic sing-along rock. On record, they don't really come across as all that serious, but their presence on stage commands attention and it's not long before you feel their desperate, albeit boisterous, lunges. One-Eyed Willy would be impressed, for sure.

Austin's Electric Touch opened the show with vampy, Killers-inspired pop, followed by Los Angeles' The Airborne Toxic Event. The latter really left an impression, with fast, spacey melodies, bolstered by just the right amount of violin, a little rage, and a hint of Ramones. Props are in order, by the way, to The Airborne Toxic Event for sending a silver gleaming death machine (see what I did there?)—via their blog—back at Pitchfork in response to an unfavorable review of their debut album. It's always amusing when one of these no-talent windbag music reviewers gets what's coming to them so eloquently and thoughtfully.

The Fratellis:
Airborne Toxic Event:
Electric Touch:

Airborne Toxic Event – “Wishing Well” [mp3]
Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight” [mp3]


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