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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
Fleet Foxes keep it simple and sublime
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Fleet Foxes keep it simple and sublime

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Fleet Foxes
May 3
Moore Theatre


There's nothing flashy about a Fleet Foxes show. The stage backdrop is a plain black curtain, the drum set doesn't have the group's logo or name on it, and the band members dress in whatever was at the top of their suitcases that morning. But their music is a whole different matter; lush, finely layered compositions that draw from life's simpler things - like rolling mountains and sweet golden apples - yet are executed with grandiosity.

When the six-piece ensemble appeared on stage, lead singer Robin Pecknold quickly pointed out that guitarist Skyler Skjelset and drummer Josh Tillman were both celebrating birthdays. Immediately, the crowd broke into a 'Happy Birthday' sing-along and stood on their feet awaiting the start of the show. The second of back-to-back sold-out performances at the Moore Theatre found the Fleet Foxes celebrating two more special occasions: playing in front of a hometown audience and the release of their much-anticipated sophomore album, Helplessness Blues.

'The Cascades,' off the new record, opened the concert and was followed closely by 'Grown Ocean' and then 'Drops in the River' from the band's Sun Giant EP that incorporated maracas, piano, and double bass. Three entries from their latest album were performed in succession: 'Battery Kinzie,' 'Bedouin Dress,' and notably 'Sim Sala Bim,' which climaxed with a galloping guitar riff and thunderous jam-like session.

'We got a lot of shit last night for tuning too long,' Pecknold told everyone. He obviously felt the need to apologize in advance of the waiting times between some songs, though on this night the crowd seemed to understand.

'Mykonos' was impeccable, ending with overlapping vocals and a twittering flute played by Morgan Henderson, a recent addition to the Fleet Foxes. The experience of hearing this song live inside a theater versus at home on the stereo was so different, it was beyond magical and overwhelmingly satisfying. 'Your Protector' was also amazing, and ditto for 'White Winter Hymnal' that began with a shaking tambourine and gradually built into a beautiful wall of sound.

What you get from listening to the Fleet Foxes in concert as opposed to a CD is the quality of Pecknold's vocals, gliding freely from vigorous to gentle, always enlightening but never overbearing. Where he exemplified this best was on 'Lorelai,' especially when he sang the chorus - not an easy one to do - with great ease.

Moments later, lighted candles atop frosted cupcakes were delivered on stage to birthday boys Skjelset and Tillman, followed by an odd, interesting exchange of words between an audience member and the band - it started with 'cupcake fetish,' and then the words 'suck your dick,' 'handjob,' and 'old school teacher' were tossed out. I'm not sure what it was all about, but everyone (including Pecknold) appeared to enjoy this impromptu banter.

'The Shrine/An Argument,' the finest track on Helplessness Blues, was stunning and finished with a sneering violin and wailing saxophone. 'Blue Ridge Mountains,' which closed out the main set, had people around me swaying and tapping their feet as Skjelset dazzled on mandolin. The band returned for an encore that included the title track from their just-released album.

It's hard to escape describing Fleet Foxes as organic because so many of their lyrics are plucked right out of natural settings, from red strawberries in the summertime to cold mountain air to squirrels, hummingbirds, and meadowlarks. As live performers, they bring that fresh and unfiltered sound with them - it's like being in the countryside and distracted only by what you see and hear. It was nice to exist in such an innocent, pleasurable world for just one night.

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