When the Fleet Foxes performed at Bowery Ballroom last week, frontman Robin Pecknold had a cold. But unlike a downtrodden, silent Frank Sinatra, the audience might have never known it if no one had told us (either the Dutchess or the Duke — the openers — mentioned it in their stage banter, as did Pecknold himself). Pecknold’s voice was piercing, still at the shining center of the Fleet Foxes’ appeal. But more than anything, the concert proved that there isn’t just one key to what makes the Fleet Foxes so good. It’s the way the different elements combine.
Opening with “Sun Giant,” the mostly a cappella title track of their EP, the Fleet Foxes showcased one of the major things they’ve come to be known for: their vocal harmonies. Hearing them sing, “What a life I lead in the summer / what a life I lead in the spring,” it would have been easy to listen to just their voices all night long. But when they moved right along into “Sun it Rises,” the soft, ethereal folk rock was the perfect match for their lush vocals.
Moving through songs from their full length, Ragged Wood, and the Sun Giant EP, the Fleet Foxes put on the kind of show that other bands, other audiences dream of. By the end of the third song, the audience was bursting into such loud screaming, clapping, rapturous accolade that the band was visibly taken aback. No doubt the soft-spoken Seattlites are used to tamer crowds.
When the other band members stepped back to let Pecknold perform solo, the music was stripped down and the songwriting received its fair share of attention in the form of Ragged Wood closer, “Oliver James.”
The band joined for a few more songs, and then Pecknold came out alone again for an encore of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” As he confessed, “I don’t know what I have done / I’m turning myself into a demon,” the only evil that descended was the end of such an ideal performance.
Sun It Rises
Drops in the River
White Winter Hymnal
Crayon Angels (Judee Sill cover, Robin Pecknold Solo)
Oliver James (Pecknold Solo)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Blue Ridge Mountains
Encore: Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Pecknold Solo)
Fleet Foxes performing “Mykonos” at Bowery Ballroom on July 9th, 2008: