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Gig Review: White Rabbits @ Corner Hotel, 6th January

Last night, Brooklyn indie rockers White Rabbits played a gig at the Corner Hotel which confirmed that they are one of the best live bands I have ever seen.

I had seen them a week earlier, at the Falls Festival, where they had completely blown me away. I had always been a fan of their recorded stuff, in particular 2009 album ‘It’s Frightening’, but live, White Rabbits come into their own. They have managed to construct a live show that is thrilling and captivating, while at the same time completely and utterly unique. I wanted to see them again partly to see if their incredible performance at Falls had been some kind of fluke, and I learned that it hadn’t been. It had just been White Rabbits.

Arriving at the Corner as openers Kid Sam were beginning their set, it was immediately obvious that the indie crowd was out in force. Discussions about The XX, Philadelphia Grand Jury and The Middle East were plentiful, but for the most part the crowd’s attention was firmly focused on the two performers on stage, which is an achievement in itself for an opening act.

Kid Sam deserved the attention. They were a very enjoyable opening act, and their more subtle intricate music was a perfect contrast to the percussion and keyboard driven White Rabbits sound that we were about to experience. Lead singer Kieran Ryan had me from the moment he said “Who here went to Falls instead of Pyramid? It was so much nicer…”. Meanwhile his brother Kishore was a figure of concentration on the drums, which included playing on an array of cookware to create a unique backing sound to Kieran’s distorted guitar.

We’re Mostly Made Of Water was the highlight of their set, which involved Kishore breaking out a Wok to use as a drum. They were very very enjoyable and likeable, as they humbly thanked the crowd and White Rabbits for having them. They are definitely an Aussie band to watch for in the future.

White Rabbits were of course the main attraction of the night however. A sizeable crowd was building up, however the gig had not sold out, which is disgraceful given the calibre of White Rabbits. As the scheduled performance time neared, I once again got the sensation that half of the crowd knew exactly what was coming and were feverishly excited, and that the other half weren’t quite sure what to expect, and were about to be very pleasantly surprised.

And then White Rabbits walked onto stage, all six of them. As a band, they have a very interesting setup. Lead vocals are shared between Stephen Patterson, who is also the keyboardist, and Gregory Roberts, who also plays guitar. There are two percussionists, Jamie Levinson who mans the traditional drum kit, and Matt Clark who has his own little corner of the stage full of anything that makes a noise when hit by something else. Rounding off the group are bassist Brian Betancourt and guitarist Alex Even.

Really, however, this arrangement is just for album covers and CD-sleeve credits. The guys changed instruments so much throughout the night that they made any attempt to classify what exactly each member’s role within the band is pretty redundant. Matt Clark routinely swapped between playing his mini-drum set to strapping on a guitar to helping Stephen out on the keys. Stephen himself, when he wasn’t belting out a number on the keyboard, would be playing lead guitar, doing his part to damage the drums as much as possible, or just prowling the stage with mic in hand. Brian made regular trips to Matt’s drums as well.

When I had seen the guys at Falls, it seemed as if they were just doing whatever they felt like during a song. But, having seen them twice, it becomes apparent that every single part of their mad live show is carefully choreographed, from when Matt and Stephen simultaneously play the keyboard to when Brian helps out on the drums. White Rabbits live are, in every way, organised chaos.

The band’s setlist was virtually identical to their Falls performance, with a few extra songs thrown in here and there to account for the longer performance time. Their set at Falls was spectacular, however,  so this was no reason to complain. They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong was once again a highlight, with Matt refusing to stop playing one of his drums even once it had fallen over from the fierce beating. A stagehand righted the drum (as Matt was still playing), to the drummer’s thanks. Stephen meanwhile was in his element, sitting on an instrument case and playing his double-keyboard (taped together with duct-tape, of course) while providing impassioned vocals.

Rudie Fails is a hundred times better live than recorded, and I really enjoy the studio version. Company I Keep was a welcome addition to their Falls setlist, and saw Stephen play a guitar, something which I had not witnessed at Falls and just another reason to admire him. Midnight And I was another nice surprise, and built to an absolutely frenetic climax.

There was also a welcome smattering of songs from the band’s debut album, ‘Fort Nightly’, such as Kid On My Shoulders, The Plot, and While We Go Dancing. Once again, every single song sounded so much better live, when you could see and feel the energy of the band. The sound that they managed to create was truly special: it seemed like there were many more people than six on the stage.

Matt Clark in particular absolutely owned the stage, both as a dominating figure standing tall and belting his drums, and whenever he would journey around the rest of the stage, playing a tambourine or guitar. This is a seriously talented group of musicians, and their stage energy is second-to-none. By halfway through the set they were all sweating profusely, and they maintained this insane energy throughout the entire set.

Percussion Gun was a highlight of the show, but I stress again that this is far from a one-hit band. The tribal drum beat was immediately hailed with applause by the crowd, and the live rendition of the song only added to its raw energy and frantic pace, interrupted by very cool keyboard interludes. It was one of my favourite songs of 2009, and I don’t see it dropping off my iTunes regular rotation anytime soon.

The band’s banter with the crowd was enjoyable- they were gracious of the warm reception they received, and their discussions about the day’s cricket were very amusing. “We saw Australia beat Pakistan today,” said Gregory, adding that “We watched it. We didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on, but we watched it”. After the encore break, which was very fleeting but full of loud applause, Jamie reappeared on stage before the rest of the band, only to ask the crowd “How many runs are there in an over?”.

The encore was brilliant of course, allowing the band to expend every last bit of energy, and finishing with The Salesman (Tramp Life), which saw Stephen leave the keyboards to focus his full efforts on singing and playing drums. The band left the stage for the last time, saying that “You’ve been amazing. We’ll be back next time, we promise”.

And I really hope that they will be. From the first moment I saw them setting up for Falls, White Rabbits had this intangible confidence about them. Despite what was then a smallish crowd around their stage, they seemed like a band that knew they would win over fans with their live performance. And they are dam right.

They should be confident in their live act, because it is unquestionably one of the best I have ever seen. They have managed to put together a live show both unique and natural. Add to this the fact that they are all very talented musicians, and have a great catalogue of enjoyable songs, as well as a few big hits, and you have a live act to be reckoned with. Songs that I didn’t pay that much attention to on their albums come to life when you are seeing the six guys play them, and songs that I already loved (most of their songs) are just spectacular.

This was a staggeringly good gig, and will provide a tough benchmark for the rest of 2010. My only complaint, apart from narrowly missing out on a setlist, is that they had no merch whatsoever. I want a White Rabbits shirt!

I only hope that they are back soon, because I can’t wait very long to witness a gig like this again. Maybe I should move to Brooklyn…

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