Concert Review: French For Rabbits, Wine Cellar,  12 November 2020

French For Rabbits launches their country-wide Dark Arts Tour. A dream of a show. And the music of dreams when we inhabit that mysterious realm. Rev Orange Peel files this review.

I talk to Brooke Singer just after the close. Whilst there has been anxiety for the band tonight, there has also been a great deal of pleasure. Current events have encroached like a curse. Again, fear and uncertainty has been stoked by Control. Other shows cancelled and barred their doors just a few hours prior. The Rabbits had to quickly plan to seat everyone at the Cellar tonight, when it was originally a stand-up show. Possibly a third of the ticket-holders did not come. Those of us present received the transmission of these Dark Arts as a boon. Music is the art to confront these increasingly malevolent times.

We had MISSY to open the special night’s entertainment. Abigail Knudson is a highly regarded music producer as well as being a distinctive and idiosyncratic performer.

The room is quite blissed out already from I don’t know what but we are jump-started by the opening sparks of electronics and electricity and just plain eccentricity of the opening song.

I don’t have a crush on you repeats the formula. Most songs are new and lyrics stand in for titles. Grand and decisive electro rhythms like Human League Mark 2. An incredibly versatile and powerful voice which can hit the high tones effortlessly and sustain. The voice is as versatile, sultry and theatrical as the early Kate Bush. But she is also not too far removed from more recent female superstars like Taylor Swift or Lana Del Ray.

Pound of flesh has European Techno accents and just the downright oddness of Wire. Brian Eno would be appreciative. I suspect MISSY is a fan.

Sacrifice is full of old Sci-fi sound effects and tinny Joe Meek kitsch. And then her singing easily glides right over all this and keeps hitting that high register. Sounds like a classical music background perhaps.

She uses a keyboard and digital effects. Young man keeps time on syn-drums.

Story is from last year’s album, Strange. Given a playful Soul Jazz vocal treatment tonight.

Madman has a complexity of elements expertly stitched together. Digital effects, a choir, a church organ and a violin. Melodic and intense Pop with some bragging Rap.

The audience is enthusiastic. Well and truly warmed up by this expertly presented set.

The Rabbits started as a duo a while back from a relationship. The other half at the time John Fitzgerald. Plays electric guitar with echoes of Surf and Duane Eddy twang. They remain friends and collaborators.

From their original Folk leanings, they have expanded and evolved an Ambient White Soul Pop sound. The band for the last three years is completed by Penelope Esplin and Ben Lemi as multi-instrumentalists and singers, and Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa on drums.

Goat starts with a signature atmospheric electric guitar twang which I like to call the Twin Peaks sound. Feelgood Folk Pop as is their oldest song Claim by the Sea. The songs float and swirl and spin the listeners into good places. Poetic and melodic. Brooke has a quieter and nuanced singing style.

The sound is superb and perfectly captures the quietness as well as handling the volume. Both acts shine with quite different sonic requirements. The Cellar consistently delivers here.

The set is the debut public performance of their forthcoming album. They start with Dark Arts. The theme is hoarding. How objects are animated and also form emotional attachments. Jung expressed in a song.

The Overflow addresses anxiety but is Pop with a nice swing and is light on its feet and playful. Builds in intensity but maintains ambience and sounds like summer is here.

Nothing in my Hands was inspired by climate change and Brooke tells us she has slipped the phrase eminent doom in there somewhere. Sombre, sorrowful and heavy with portent. Female voices combine beautifully and present this as a lament.

Money or the Bag of course is Heartland New Zealand and used to captivate the country when there was barely two TV channels and no Internet. What?? By now we are seduced by the quirkiness of the band and the off-beat humour. Shades of Jonathan Richman.

Passengers addresses Twitter and Trump. All at the edges of our seats watching it all unfold. Either strikingly prescient or a very new one. As with all the songs there is great craft and cleverness in the writing and construction of these songs.

The Rabbits have spent a fair amount of time the last few years touring through Europe and America. The Outsider comes from writing in the States. A Twilight Zone intro. Atmospheric but has a dream state feel with a lumbering heavy bottom.

They bring the show to a close with The Other Side. From the Spirits album. A keyboard drone. Dramatic touches from the drums. A nice progression as the song builds quietly and is ultimately uplifting as I’ll wait for you on the other side.

The aim of this tour is to present their new songs in intimate settings and come at angles outside of the mainstream of Pop. So, they are aiming for Semi-Popular. Take a listen to the third Velvet Underground album again to get a fix on where they are coming from. Can be unsettling and stirs deep into your psyche but sounds absolutely heartening.

Rev Orange Peel