Upon your first listen to Fleet Foxes, I think there are a few things that are made evidently clear. For starters, it’s that not all folk music is as simple as what we hear on the radio, and second, it’s that this Seattle folk band is doing far more than simply pumping out folk jams.
There are classical and experimental elements scattered throughout their 3 LP discography, and along with that, nearly every instrument you can think of is interacting with each other harmonically. This potentially chaotic and hectic aspect of their music is what makes them so appealing for me, as I love dissecting music and finding unique sounds to empathize with. But when you’re listening to music this complicated, with lyrics as complex and abstract as Robin Pecknold’s you can sometimes feel as though you’re listening to music that isn’t meant for the average person. That this band, with its artistic and musical prowess, is simply a pretentious rock outfit that is making music from a self indulgent place.
These assumptions are made to be false almost immediately upon their show beginning. Taking the stage is not a pretentious rock outfit, but rather 5 super peaceful, very charismatic human beings, who share their love for music with everyone in the crowd.
Robin Pecknold, is a gracious and patient artist at the forefront, who handled the constant heckles of the crowd with wit and kindness. He answered almost every yelp from the audience, whether it be a snarky remark like “play that one song” to which he pretended to play “White Winter Hymnal”, or him simply answering every undistinguishable word that arose from the spectators. There was no artist/fan barrier, but rather simply a group of people in solidarity.
This deep sense of gentleness and kindness, was exhibited prior to the show as well, as a chance encounter with him outside of Massey Hall, had me yearning to tell him that I absolutely loved his music. Of course I did so, to which he simply replied “Thank You”, while putting his hand over his heart.
Pecknold made self deprecating jokes of his need to drink throat soothing tea during the show, and about how you need to go deep into your body to hit high notes, thus saving us “1000$ on vocal lessons”. But aside from his spewing of charisma, Robin and the band absolutely destroyed the show. I’ve never seen a band mix and transition songs so well, into a seamless display of music. “Music” is the best way to put it, because with the myriad of influence pouring out of the seams, it can sometimes be tough to tell what genre you’re in.
Fleet Foxes play folk with the best of them on “White Winter Hymnal” and “Oliver James”, but then rocks out hard on tunes “Third of May/Odaigahara”. Pecknold’s acoustic break mid way through the show, was a brilliant showcase of his vocal skills, as his ability to fill the hall with his voice was remarkable. His acoustic renditions of “Tiger Mountain Pleasant Song” and “If You Need to Keep Time On Me” were bone chilling, and evoked a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd. The show was filled with memorable moments, and fun snippets, as Pecknold even teased “Exit Music for a Film” by Radiohead before paying “Oliver James”, jokingly saying we will watch him learn the song, as he made up the lyrics on the spot.
“Helplessness blues” was preceded by a small “Here Comes the Sun” intro, and then of course it seamlessly blended into the intro of the aforementioned song. “Helplessness Blues” was a wonder to watch, as the break into the guitar solo rendered my body useless before the gods of music. I watched from the gallery, like a child watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, except with back pain, because those seats in the gallery are atrocious.
Needless to say, the show was truly a spectacle. It featured unparalleled musicianship, with charisma that would charm all of our parents into accepting Robin Pecknold as their son. The set was nearly 2 hours long, featuring every twist and turn a show could put forth, whether it be genre switching, or instrument switching mid song(literally). Perhaps the only downfall would be the annoying need for audience members to yell out what their brains were thinking. However, their poor ability to control impulses was rebutted by Robin Pecknolds wit, and turned into memorable moments. Although I wish fans at Massey Hall were more inclined to stand, and not sit and watch like a 1940’s theatre spectacle, I guess you have to pick your battles.
“Thanks for coming”, a fan yelled at the end of the show.
To which Robin Pecknold replied, “Anytime….or in 6 years”.
Catch them on tour if you’re able to, and for those of you in Toronto, I hope you’re watching them tonight.