Monday, August 17, 2009

Fleet Foxes: Live at First Avenue

I saw the Fleet Foxes last week and wrote this review of the show for In Review Online.

The Fleet Foxes have receded from the limelight, but you can feel that it is only temporary as artist and audience alike bide their time until a new release. It was just a little over a year ago that the Fleet Foxes debut self titled full length CD took the world by gentle storm. With only a two song single in the time since, they return to Minneapolis to sell out a venue three times the size the club they played last fall. Graduating from an intimate venue to a place like First Avenue—where the stage is chin height and the musicians instantly become larger-than-life rock stars—is an inevitable but odd step forward for this self-effacing band. I gladly signed up for the second opportunity to be lifted to the sky by Robin Pecknold vocals, but I was also curious to see how their show translated in the larger venue.

Sold out shows at First Ave mean a lot of people and a lot of sweaty bodies maneuvering for the same space. My agoraphobia sets in almost immediately, so I purchased an overpriced 22oz Fat Tire in order to have a decent bottle to swing at the unruly fans. Oh wait, wrong show. The crowd, filled with love for the Fleet Foxes, was one of the most benevolent that you are likely to find at a packed rock show.

Swedish psych-rockers Dungen opened with sassy authority. It turns out that reading that article in the New York Times on the anniversary of Woodstock over dinner proved precognitive, as Dungen powered onto the stage with a display of hair and hip shaking that would put any hippie to shame. Leader of the pack, Gustav Ejstes, alternated between piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, flute and tambourine—which usually included the aforementioned hip shaking. Their brand of folk jam easily won the audience over and when invited to sing along (in Swedish) we tried our best.

The Fleet Foxes were invited up onstage with little fanfare to play various percussion instruments for one song and they left as quietly as they appeared. It was a tease. We wanted to see the Fleet Foxes, but not shake maracas or tap wood blocks together. As enjoyable as Dungen was, when the Fleet Foxes took the stage with the a cappella “Sun Giant” it was like a breath of fresh air. Their beautiful harmonies live were as much a surprise now as they were a year ago. I have never seen four guys harmonize like the Fleet Foxes. It is utterly breathtaking.

The sound was full and crystalline and they had no problem transforming the dark cavernous space into something more cathedral-like. The long pauses between songs—tuning, guitar changing and the like—is an open door for drummer Josh Tillman to initiate or propel a live commentary, but the first two breaks were awkwardly silent with only a couple thank yous from Pecknold. A sense of comfort settled in as audience members started talking to the band and they stated talking back. Their sharp-witted conversations makes you want to go out for coffee with them, but maybe not with 1500 other people. Tillman felt it necessary (after a slight diversion about Target and Miley Cyrus) to share an experience in Times Square where a passerby said, “Look, it’s the Jonas Bothers in 15 years.” to Tillman, Pecknold and Pecknold’s older brother.

Mid-set the band left the stage and Pecknold did two songs by himself: an incredible rendition of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and a new song that was equally as beautiful regardless of its unfamiliarity. The songs Pecknold performed by himself were an undeniable highlight of the show. The humble acknowledgement to the heart and soul of the band gave his solitary presence a potency that you miss with the other four members in full regalia.

The Sunday night show at First Ave was their last show with Dungen and their last show stateside before heading to Europe for a month and then back home to record. They played an hour-long set and returned with the most perfect encore. Pecknold first did “Oliver James” solo, and then pulled everyone back onstage, including Dungen, for one final song. Ejstes, who had changed into a Public Enemy shirt, proclaimed the Fleet Foxes “The best band in the world!” and gestured to all the band members. Without missing a beat, Tillman said, “He’s pointing to The Black Crows. They’re standing backstage.” Their gleeful performance of “Blue Ridge Mountains” ended with a bone fide group hug, one that we felt just as much a part of.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I've heard a few songs from their first CD and liked it, I just haven't used my iTunes gift cards yet to put my money where my mouth is.

BTW, you were totally right. The song IS insipid. Good thing it is only right at the end...

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kathie Smith said...

Thanks Juan a/o Betty! I appreciate your kind comments!

Sam C. Mac said...

What a weird comment from Juanetty, who apparently both runs an Indian Airline blog and manages a very skeletal electric guitar instructional website.

Schizophrenic much?