Before he performed “State Hospital” at the Granada in Lawrence on Friday night, Scott Hutchinson paused to take a dig at the name of his band, Frightened Rabbit, recalling a night in Denmark when a very blunt Dane told him the name was “stupid.”
Maybe. At least, the name hardly fits a band that is not the slightest bit shy or timid, lyrically or musically. “State Hospital” is an apt example of the band’s propulsive dynamics. It’s a majestic, melodic, guitar-centric anthem with florid lyrics that tell a dark tale: “Her heart beats like a breeze block thrown down the stairs / Her blood is thicker than concrete / Forced to be brave, she was born into a grave.”
The band from Selkirk, Scotland, is performing without its original drummer, Hutchinson’s brother, Grant, who has left the band temporarily for personal reasons. His absence didn’t noticeably diminish the band’s sound, a brash guitar attack that was embellished here and there with keyboards and other electronic garnish.
The set list included several songs from the “Painting of a Panic Attack,” the band’s fifth studio album, released in April. Song titles overtly express lyrical themes: “I Wish I Was Sober,” “Woke Up Hurting” and “Lump Street,” which includes the lines “The grunt and moan behind the night here / Though breath is warm, sex is cold.” The album takes the band in a new sonic direction, modifying the heavy guitar sound. Live, though, the new songs meshed well with the older material.
If Frightened Rabbit has a breakthrough album, it was “The Midnight Organ Flight,” released in 2008. They played a few of its stellar tracks, including “The Modern Leper,” “Heads Roll Off,” a stately guitar anthem with a U2 vibe, and “Old Old Fashion,” a rousing, folk-rock tune that pines for waning traditions, like dancing to a song on the radio. As he introduced that song, Hutchinson took a jab at Mumford and Sons, a band Frightened Rabbit has been lazily compared to.
Other highlights: “Break,” a “Panic” track, and “Nothing Like You,” a keening rock song that rides a jackhammer guitar riff.
For the encore, Hutchinson played a couple of songs solo-acoustic, including “Poke,” a savage, gut-punch of a breakup song that had been requested earlier in the show from someone among the crowd of about 600. Unlike much of the band’s other material, “Poke” is a stripped-down acoustic folk song, an arrangement that lays bare its visceral lyrics: “Why won’t our love keel over as it chokes on a bone? / And we can mourn its passing and then bury it in snow.” Words like that signify a writer who fearlessly seeks the truth and evocative ways of expressing it, regardless of what he calls his band.