Easter sermon this year echoed through the hallowed halls of Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, delivered by the combined voices of Wintersleep, Frightened Rabbit, and around 1,100 people who turned a Sunday night into one of the more memorable concerts I’ve been part of in a long time.
Devoted fans mixed with those brought in through curiosity and the promises of the devout, who, no doubt, told their friends and family, as I did, that Frightened Rabbit is a collection of some of the most talented songwriters and musicians touring today.
This band skips over the Atlantic on a Scottish wind once in a while, turn small clubs and theatres into a frenzy, and carry on again. That they were playing in Toronto with Wintersleep was a gift I couldn’t refuse.
Wintersleep has long been a staple of my music catalogue, and watching the band blend harmonies to the beat of monster drummer Loel Campbell under the guidance of Paul Murphy – one of the more iconic voices to come out of Canada in the past decade – is a treat.
They played a fast set, filled with a mix of staples off earlier albums and new music from the latest offering,Hello Hum. They were strong, the crowd was into it, singing aloud to the climax of “Weighty Ghost” with authority; it was the perfect introduction to what would follow when the sermon really began.
I can’t say what first drew me to Frightened Rabbit. Scott Hutchison’s voice is rough and beautiful in the same moment, tinged with Scottish reflex and urgency. His brother, Grant, on drums, mesmerizes with steady and complex beats that seem at once to be off-time and in the only time possible at each second of a song.
Throw in haunting organs, lyrics that sting with beauty and anger, and a knack for the art of the crescendo where all voices blend to the point you think a choir is backing them, and I think this might be the perfect band.
The choir in the audience on Easter Sunday agreed, and it was a beautiful thing to be part of. The smiles on the band members’ faces showed they felt the same way when they graciously accepted mounting approval after each song.
Even when the bunny ears of a beautiful bartender at the back of the theatre distracted Scott as he entered the second verse of “Good Arms Versus Bad Arms,” forcing him to regroup with a laugh, he was easily forgiven.
It was Easter after all – the late March death march.
Virtually every song off the latest album, Pedestrian Verse, including “Late March, Death March,” was shared with the crowd, along with several beauties off previous albums Midnight Organ Fight and Winter of Mixed Drinks. A set nearly two-hours long disappeared in a blink while the devoted fans carried along with every note.
They finished with “The Loneliness and the Scream,” a primal call to be heard in a complex world where we’re meant to be more connected to one another, yet seem farther apart than ever before.
As the musicians played, however, everyone came together – both bands and a crowd of people eager to sing. I felt connected to everyone in the room as we carried on with the final chant echoing through the theatre until long after the music ended.
It was the way a concert should be and the best sermon I’ve ever heard, though, as Frightened Rabbit says in “Holy” off their latest album, “I’ll never be holy.”
To Wintersleep and the Scottish winds, my gratitude sails high in this early Spring.
The curious are sure to be converts and Easter, for me, will always carry the sound of “The Loneliness and the Scream” of more than a thousand people carrying voices beyond the rafters into the damp air of Sunday.
“Staggering sermons never wash,” they say. This one did for me.
Article also posted on Canadian Musician's Blog.