This was a Lollapalooza aftershow, and so it didn't start until 11pm at night; I work nine to five, which my body resists; by Thursday night, I'm tired, so Mothers was my main focus that night.
I did look up Frightened Rabbit’s recent set lists. While I haven't kept up with them, I thought I would have liked to hear "The Modern Leper", a song that wrecked me on the regular back in college. They do still play it, sometimes early in the show, sometimes late; so it was kind of a toss-up.
Frightened Rabbit's songs, including the one I most wanted to hear, are about that tension between understanding and enabling when two troubled people become intimate. From "The Modern Leper":
Well is that you in front of me
Coming back for even more of exactly the same?
You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg
Well I am ill, but I’m not dead
And I don’t know which of those I prefer.
I thought about this, and I thought about Mothers' music, how it treats the same subjects, and how the pairing of these two bands made a lot of sense.
Mothers' debut album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, is one of my favorites released so far this year, but it’s hard for me to write about it, because listening to it rips me to shreds. Like Frightened Rabbit’s, singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristine Leschper’s lyrics center on self-loathing, on mental illness or something like it. They describe feelings of inferiority relative to one’s partner: for example, in “Burden of Proof”, with which the band opened their set last Thursday, Leschper sings, “Everything you touch turns to gold / Everything I touch turns away,” stretching the syllables into something aching, wailing. But the songs also insinuate a dynamic of abuse, suggesting that their “you” has some problems, too. "I cut out my tongue / Seeing yours would speak for the both of us"—these lines conclude "Lockjaw", one of the album's stand-out tracks. "Nesting Behavior" also ends with self-deprecation in which an accusation is embedded: "You always made it easy / Reminding me not to bloom." But the album's last words express a tentative hope of rising from the ashes stronger and kinder: "I burned up all my songs / And left them out for the dogs / I think I could learn to love."
As live performers, Leschper and her band are skilled and appear to know it. Presumably, many members of the audience that night had spent that day at the festival, likely hitting up its bars a few times; they came primarily or solely for Frightened Rabbit, and it showed. Opening for a better-known act is of course a crucial way for new artists to gain exposure. Mothers maintained a steady and confident professionalism despite the persistent crowd chatter; their set was brief but by no means a throwaway.
Even though softer songs, like the aforementioned "Burden of Proof", struggled to overpower the crowd's loudness; others, like "Copper Mines", fared better, with their revved-up tempos and more assertive rock style. Particularly impressive was the band members' success in coordinating tempo shifts with barely a glance at one another. Their setup is a standard four-piece rock band's, built of crashing drums offset by guitars that zigzag and ping like pinballs. It's reminiscent of Palm, who opened for Mothers when I saw them the first time back in May, and Ought. Leschper's vocals round out the sound: if Tom Waits or Bob Dylan has a voice like steel wool, perhaps Leschper's is the inverse, softness shaped into something hard and gleaming. It's beautiful, haunting.