Thursday, October 23, 2008

Concert Review: Fleet Foxes (* * * * *)

Since hearing their stellar debut earlier this year, I've been dying to see Fleet Foxes in concert. I was a little worried that my high expectations wouldn't quite be met, but that fear proved to be unfounded as I was totally blown away by this young band's performance. The venue, a small, crowded music club called "In The Venue," seems an unlikely place to have a transcendent musical experience, but it was packed full of people hoping for just that.

First though, we were all treated to the twangy, blues folk of opener Frank Fairfield. If I didn't know better, I would say Frank had arrived via time machine directly into the club from somewhere in the deep south circa 1940. His carefully parted hair, slightly antiquated dress, and worn instruments (banjo, fiddle, guitar) combined with his muddled, howled vocals made for a truly unique show. It was clear Frank was extremely talented and sincere, though his delivery and his voice became a bit grating after a few tunes. I probably haven't captured the experience well, so check out his MySpace page for live concert videos. Trust me, it's worth a look.

As Fleet Foxes made their way from the back of the club to the stage, two things crossed my mind: 1. Whoa, Robin Pecknold just brushed my shoulder! and 2. Maybe Frank picked these guys up on his way here as he flew through the 70s. Sporting mountain-man beards and long hair, Fleet Foxes looked a little like an old folk-rock band on a reunion tour. After a few minutes of noodling around with the equipment, they starting singing their A Capella opener "Sun Giant" to the eager crowd. I was stunned, amazed, absolutely blown away that four guys (guitarist Skye Skjelset is the only one who doesn't get a mic, or a beard for that matter) could harmonize so well. It was only a couple minutes long, but it was worth the price of admission.

After that, the band continued with the full-bodied "Sun It Rises," and "Drops In The River," sounding just as unified with the two guitarists, drummer Joshua Tillman, bassist Christian Wargo, and keyboardist/mandolinist Casey Wescott all proving themselves more than able. At no point did the band ever seem anxious, uncomfortable, or jittery, though they did all look a little road-weary. Some highlights include "White Winter Hymnal," "Mykanos," and my personal favorite of the evening, "Ragged Wood," which showcased Robin Pecknold's impressive vocal ability (There's nothiiiiiiing, I can dooo-ooo-ooo-ooo!).

Though each band member seemed crucial to the Fleet Foxes' unique sound and presentation, credit should be given to Pecknold, who gave an obvious 110 percent throughout the set. He sang with such fervor that his voice started to get just a touch scratchy by the end of the show. On two occasions the band took a breather while Pecknold played a couple solo numbers, including the gorgeous "Oliver James" and an old folk tune called "Katy Cruel," both of which were exceptional. This young singer/songwriter just about oozes talent.

The band played through most (if not all) of their catalog, throwing in a couple covers and a new song (which was amazing, of course) and the set lasted for an hour and twenty minutes or so. I know I've raved about the performance to the point of exhaustion, but this was a truly special experience. Make it a priority to see these guys play as soon as possible; you'll be glad you did.

Set List

Sun Giant
Sun It Rises
Drops In The River
English House
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
Your Protector
Crayon Angels (Judy Sill cover, Pecknold Solo)
Oliver James (Pecknold Solo)
Quiet Houses
He Doesn't Know Why
Katy Cruel (Old folk song cover, Pecknold Solo)
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Pecknold Solo)
(New Song!)
Blue Ridge