Wednesday, December 7, 2011

White Rabbits, last night at Recordbar

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 12:50 PM

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For the last four years White Rabbits have circumnavigated the globe opening in the shadows of Interpol, the Walkmen, Spoon, and Kaiser Chiefs, but last night, band leader Stephen Patterson said — a bit perversely — that it was their first time playing at a club in Kansas City, and they’re from Missouri. Patterson introduced the Kansas City native, bassist Brian Betancourt; auxiliary percussionist Matthew Clark waved to his mom from the stage. On the tiny stage of maybe the coziest strip mall in the region, within arms-length of wall-to-wall native fans, White Rabbits glowed.

So that indie-WASP Walkmen look might not have sold — they appear to be in the midst of divorcing that brand. If that business plan didn't work, they were still honest, resilient and weirdly self-loathing, like when they played “Salesmen” early in their set and started chanting a reprise that demands: Recognize me, with Patterson huffing like Willy Loman in a premature third act. But the band is still young; its hands are still clenched tight in a fight to make it on Broadway or, in their case, Brooklyn. It’s like they’re always just acing the audition: The band can stop on a dime and pull out another meticulously practiced song before you can remember if that last one had any hooks. They seem to be aware of that, especially in that one song that repeats the line, He’s not impressed, over and over until the song collapses in heat.

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Opener Sonoi was sinuous where the Rabbits skitter. With bigger washes and steadier climbs toward climaxes, the trio steeps itself in both Sonic Youth noise and noir twang, without ever sounding decidedly arty or country. It was like hearing an indie firstborn like Yo La Tengo have its steamy affair with country without ever having to actually go country.

Something was still a little weird about the White Rabbits’ set: it’s been two years since the ambitious It’s Frightening, and White Rabbits is on the road with some new music, the same baroque number of moving parts, and no mention of an upcoming album. The compressed calypso dances are still incredibly tense — their rhythm section is still so wound-up that it sounds like the songs have song scoliosis. The brutalist textures, machine aesthetic, staccato restraint, whatever — it builds tension that never releases, like pressure valves continually verging on bursting. The band is like a heavy sports car that might need to drop some weight and get better steering before it can improve its already pretty exceptional timing.

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