LIVE MUSIC: White Rabbits @ The Black Cat 3/7/12

First things first. I love the band Spoon. If you’re reading this you probably also love the band Spoon. In fact I think it’s safe to say that just about EVERYONE loves the band Spoon.

But nobody loves the band Spoon more than White Rabbits.

Now before any of you White Rabbits super-fans get all “There is more to them than that.” or “Up yours, reviewer guy!”, know that while that kind of statement is usually reserved for bands who are struggling to find their own identity, in this case it’s quite the opposite. So while there’s no way to get around acknowledging, or even dwelling on White Rabbits Spoon-ness (Spoon front man Britt Daniel even produced their second album, It’s Frightening, after all) it’s what they ultimately do with this “burden” that makes them one of the most exciting bands you’re likely to see this year.

White Rabbits front man Stephen PattersonYes, the group looks almost lovingly to Spoon for most of its cue’s, but to call them “Spoon-lite” would be ignoring the fact that not only has the band written some fairly invigorating songs, but they know how to deliver on them. I’ll go on record as not particularly loving their new record, Milk Famous. There's nothing technically wrong with it, in fact it's a decently strong work of indie-pop-punk, or whatever you want to call this type of music. There is just the sense that there’s some sort of spark gone out of what ultimately ended up on tape permeating the record and honestly it was causing some mild feelings of trepidation when thinking about what could be expected from the band when they took the stage last Wednesday. That feeling of trepidation though fell immediately by the wayside as any question that White Rabbits would fail to deliver the goods was quickly and definitively swept away from note one last Wednesday night. 

On album, the opener “Heavy Metal” plods along innocuously enough, yet never quite engages the listener beyond a passing interest. There is a twitchy urgency that is implied, but it just never hits like it should. Opening the show with the song, on the other hand, “Metal” took the shape of some ominous dance hit played for the end of the world, thus setting the tone for the rest of the evening. Spending the rest of the set breaking down their own songs and bringing them back to life the, tracks from Milk Famous like “Are You Free”, “Danny Come Inside” and the Beatles-esque (see, it’s not ALL Spoon!) “I’m Not Me” found themselves inhabiting a new, slightly sweatier space then could have been imagined on record.

With room to breathe, these songs, along with tracks from White Rabbits first two albums - 2007’s Fort Nightly and 2009’s It’s Frightening -  became riveting paradigms of modern “indie-rock”.  The best music is that which engages, if not stimulates the mind of the listener beyond the prerequisite “dance now” response, and throughout the night, the White Rabbits kept the crowd moving as much as it kept them thinking about and internalizing the complexity and the scope of the music that was being created before them.

Two drummers are better than one.

It may be cliche to say so, but the band really did put 110% into their performance. But none more-so than singer/front man Stephen Patterson. By my estimation, Patterson is a born rock star, and he’s not waiting for the larger stage to prove it. There are a lot of things a band needs to do to put on a good show, but what’s most important is that you’ve got to have a strong center. You’ve got to have something for the audience to focus on more than the music. And with a beer sitting precariously at his pianos edge, Patterson provided that center, even more so than the double percussion rhythm section that lays the bedrock for just about every White Rabbits song to date. As a  performer he is thrilling to watch, and as White Rabbits grow their audience and play to bigger and bigger rooms, expect Patterson’s ability to entertain through the conviction of his performance to keep even pace with that growth, if not surpass it.

Spoon may have cornered the market on slightly off kilter punky-pop, but White Rabbits seem to be committed to exploring the darker corners of that world. It’s a distinguishing difference between the two bands, and ultimately it’s what is going to enable White Rabbits to step fully out of the Spoon shadow that they willingly take cover under now. The idea that bands sometimes wear their influences on their sleeves is nothing new. But the idea that a band may so expertly warp those influences into something entirely their own is something you don't see a lot of. And you most certainly don't see those bands pull it off in such high fashion as White Rabbits. 

Yea, White Rabbits love Spoon. But they also love White Rabbits. And after Wednesday’s show I think it’s safe to say that this reviewer does too.*

Click to see the rest of our shots from the show

*For the record: We saw them the very next night in Charlottesville, VA and got the same results.