On last Thursday evening, Fruit Bats played Rough Trade in Brooklyn in celebration of their latest album, Absolute Loser, which came out on Friday. According to frontman Eric Johnson, it was their first show in New York in five years.
Fruit Bats, an indie-rock band formed in Chicago, is mainly a solo project of Johnson’s with various other musicians rotating in and out. Influential in folk-rock, Fruit Bats were a part of the early 2000’s folk-rock boom, citing influences such as The Kinks, Neil Young, and The Grateful Dead. After playing their farewell show at the Aladdin Theater in November of 2013, Fruit Bats went into hibernation. Johnson produced music for other artists, scored films, experienced a loss of pregnancy with his wife, and released a self-titled album EDJ as an “outpouring of grief”. After this 3 year period of dormancy for Fruit Bats, Johnson realized the importance of Fruit Bats to his identity, and created Absolute Loser, an album of rebirth and resiliency, about “the furthest depths of loss itself”.
At Rough Trade, Fruit Bats take the stage, which they’ve decorated with some amorphous wooden cutouts and battery-operated candles. Golden lights bathe the band, and the show opens with “Feather Bed” off of The Ruminant Band. Johnson’s vocals are impeccable, never a hair off pitch. His voice has a special quality to it a bit like Neil Young’s, but with an unmistakable brightness that gives Fruit Bats an instantly recognizable sound. Johnson continues to perform an even mix of songs from their past five albums, sprinkling in new tracks here and there as an especially drunk couple yells out “Dolly!” after every song. “Absolute Loser” is followed by “Good Will Come to You”, both off of the new album, and highlights of the setlist. The drunk couple is finally obliged by an amazing performance of “Dolly”, and they thank the band for this undeserved gift by making their way to the front of the crowd to make out in a more central location. “Dolly” segues into “When U Love Somebody”, and Fruit Bats leave the stage as the crowd cheers. They barely make it off the stage before returning for “Beautiful Morning Light”, “Being On Your Own”, and the much anticipated “You’re Too Weird”. “We promise we’ll be back, and it won’t take five years this time,” swears Johnson. Fruit Bats fans file out of Rough Trade, comforted by Johnson’s promise: Fruit Bats are back, and it seems they’re here to stay.