White Rabbits | Gull April 5, 2012 Plush
For White Rabbits (for Gull, too) music is not a tender nerve. It is not a quiet moment of confession. It is a raging, delirious case of id, an animal instinct given form by relentless repetition and experimentation.
At Plush we welcomed the homecoming crowd of family everywhere and old friends. The first album got the loudest cheers, even though it rarely appeared and was barely recognizable when it did. Four hundred and plenty of change wandered into Midtown's new Neverland and the tightly bound White Rabbits returned to Missouri fully grown.
Gull, one man from Pennsylvania by way of Virginia, took the stage in a mask to a crowd of almost nobody. That's what happens when there are so many attractions in a venue far from the stage (bars, games, bars, food and, most critically I have to assume, a soft wall sculpture that will hug you back). So Gull donned his tribal mask and stood before his hide and pelt adorned drum kit and began wailing away. Wailing on his guitar, eventually wailing on his drums and throughout wailing into the microphone attached to the inside of his mask, Nathaniel Rappole sucked the people into the venue half of Plush by willpower.
There exists almost nothing to recommend Gull online. A few stray tracks that do no justice to this man's insane, tribal live show. He is a marvel of coordination, finger-tapping a guitar while rendering jagged, funky beats on his bare drum kit. But of course technical wizardry is boring on its own. And Gull has more; he has something you can participate in -- something that can propel your feet and head.
In addition to looking cool (it does), there are unforeseen practical benefits of attaching a mic to your mask. Namely that it can be another instrument; Rappole moves the mask, pushing it against his face to add percussion, shaking it to add effect to his vocals. Which, by the way, are unintelligible, though it doesn't much matter. He communicates plenty.
By the time he finished (to applause louder than an opener would get usually) the room was filling. Let's take a second and consider that half-a-thousand-odd who chose White Rabbits. The other options last night were plentiful and compelling: Van Dyke Parks making his first St. Louis appearance at the Luminary, Guitar Wolf down the street at the Firebird, Bailiff for free at Off Broadway and that's just the beginning. The cold winter never came and its sparse schedules are gone. But still White Rabbits, even factoring the extended family on hand, was clearly the place to be. Maybe people are in for the recently released Milk Famous or maybe this city isn't about to be caught off guard by the somehow nimble steamroller that is this band's live show.
Part of that strength is visual -- nearly all the members of White Rabbits posses the charisma of an above-average front man. Stephen Patterson, who has by now assumed the lead pretty much entirely, presents onstage as the only slightly neurotic, vaguely European athlete. Greg Roberts -- Patterson's equal in the spotlight early in the band's existence -- has taken a co-pilot role in prominently cuffed clothes. He was once the most intimidating dead-eyed stare I have ever seen and now his carefree onstage persona has a mildly sinister feel, a bit like Johnny Depp's Hunter Thompson. Both men, just to be clear, are a thrill to watch. So are the rest: Matt Clark manhandling a drum kit standing up and Alex Even as your Jonny Greenwood, especially.
So that's what I saw. What I heard was a setlist heavy on the new stuff (duh) and a few older songs, the gradual rearrangement of which have them sounding a lot like the new stuff. That means restraint, tumbling complicated rhythms and even-tempered vocals. The most dramatic re-imagining came on "Kid on My Shoulders" from the great Fort Nightly. Last night the racing song became a sinewy challenge; an exercise in anticipation. "Aaaah, he was the KID ON MY SHOULDERS" became, "Uhhhh. he was the kid. on my shoulders."
I miss the old version. I miss the band that covered the Specials' cover of "Maggie's Farm." But that band was running out of creative ground to break even then. This band remained restless, spent time at the School of Spoon and today owes crippling debt to no one.
Who needs nostalgia? "Danny Come Inside," absent on several setlists thus far this tour, sounded as good as any song the band has ever played: hypnotic repetition over thunderous synchronized drums, made by cut-and-paste in the studio and effortless live.
To end the night, Patterson turned back to his mic, as an afterthought, tapped it twice to make sure it was live and said, "Go Cardinals." Then the sound man put on "You Make Me Feel Brand New" and everyone went home smiling.
Notes and setlist are on the next page.