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White Rabbits Play No-Nonsense Homecoming Gig

White Rabbits / Photo by Ted Chase

White Rabbits aren’t much for banter. To call the band workmanlike would probably be an overstatement — conjuring an image of a bluesier, simpler band than the sextet that took the stage last night at New York’s Webster Hall — but their 16-song set was unassuming yet effective in a way that could almost be called transactional: Their fans paid for a good show, and that’s what they got. One could even be forgiven for not realizing that this was a homecoming show for the Brooklyn band, who have been on the road since SXSW last month. The only clue: a profession of civic love at show’s end.

Maybe the band members are shy? Certainly they have stage presence, but White Rabbits are a studio band that just happens to have put in some work to make their music translate onstage. Frontman Stephen Patterson explains the title of their third album, Milk Famous, as an expression meaning “To be known, but not for something you intended to be known for.” This may be a sly wink at constant comparisons to Spoon. After all, both bands mine a similar vein of indie rock, and both have paid increasing attention to crafting “simple” recordings from a complex sonic palette. But Patterson’s appeal is distant from Britt Daniel’s arch charisma. “Back for More,” for example, evokes a dreary inevitability more akin to a Thom Yorke lyric.

The distinction also speaks to the ongoing improvement of the band as they’ve developed from Missouri-based college rockers in 2004. Predictably, last night’s set was front-loaded with songs from Milk Famous (eight of its 11 songs played in all), and these new songs stood out. Of course, the familiarity of the Fort Nightly and It’s Frightening tracks had its own appeal for the crowd, too, judging by the folks mouthing the words along to “They Done Wrong/ We Done Wrong” and others. The early-show concertgoers were, almost in a reflection of the band itself, subdued but attentive and, especially after the two-song encore of new song “Danny Come Inside” and 2007 favorite “Kid on My Shoulders,” more than satisfied.

Set List:
“Heavy Metal”
“Are You Free”
“The Salesman (Tramp Life)”
“I’m Not Me”
“Back for More”
“While We Go Dancing”
“The Day You Won the War”
“They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong”
“The Plot”
“Rudie Fails”
“I Had It Coming”
“Percussion Gun”
“Danny Come Inside”
“Kid on My Shoulders”