Fleet Foxes @ The Pabst Theater
Oct. 10, 2008
Seattle's folk-rock quintet Fleet Foxes deserve all the critical praise and superlatives lavished on them in the short time since the June release of their self-titled debut album. As has been the case for many stops on their tour, the band's show at the Pabst on Friday night sold out, the audience perched high into the topmost balcony, like unruly barn owls roosting in the rafters.
As a group, Fleet Foxes are five men with nine instruments: a choral quartet, rhythm section and three guitars. Gilded with mellifluous vocal rounds and free of overwrought jam-band indulgences, they borrow liberally from the vocal harmonies of The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel without sounding derivative.
It's no easy task delivering a well-rehearsed set while maintaining an intensity that suggests the material is being played for the first time, but Fleet Foxes surpassed expectations, quelling any skepticism that the band might be too green to measure up to their recorded material in a live performance.
Musically, the only sour notes were hit beyond the stage. The a cappella moments in "White Winter Hymnal" and the quietude of "Your Protector" were disrupted by inane peals and hoots from the audience, not least of all by a man who banged so heartily on the back of the seat in front of him that even his obvious lack of rhythm could not dampen his earnestness.
Halfway through the set, the band left songwriter Robin Pecknold alone to sing the tender elegy "Oliver James" and a cover of Judee Sill's "Crayon Angels."
For the encore, the band left Pecknold for a second time. Unplugging his guitar and stepping away from the microphone, he sang the traditional folk song "Katie Cruel" before obliging requests for Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather," from which he teased a few bars, quickly abandoning it for "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song." The band rejoined Pecknold for the unreleased "Silver City," and the gorgeous "Blue Ridge Mountains," a song that showcases Fleet Foxes' vocal harmonies and duly illustrates their comparison to Crosby, Stills & Nash before Neil Young hijacked the band's sound.
Pecknold is the clear centerpiece of the band, but Fleet Foxes' full sound and quartet of vocal harmonies are what bear him above other talented guys with guitars and stories to tell.
Between songs, Pecknold dove from what an ecstatic teenaged Teresa d'Avila in Forever 21 described as "music from, like, the heavens" into more earthly subject matter: affecting a deep voice and mimicking presidential campaign ads. Cheered on by the audience, Pecknold was slow to let go the political burlesque, and dragged the routine through nearly half the set. Though it was amusing the first time, and even the second, the routine soured quickly from overuse, with Pecknold interrupting keyboardist Casey Wescott to reprise it during an anecdote.
Pecknold is an excellent performer and an even better songwriter. And while it may be premature to mistake his awkward charm for symptoms of burgeoning egoism and unchecked self-indulgence-the lyrical object of worship in "Sun Giant" and "Sun It Rises" begs a gentle warning for Pecknold not to repeat Icarus' mistake and fly solo too close to that bright star. For now, he needs the rest of the band to keep him from crashing into Earth.