It’s easy enough to say that live performance is the true test of a band. But there’s something that goes beyond that. Will a show that’s great once be great 10 times? In a culture prone to fanaticism, there should be things that interest the audience member who’s seen the band on every tour for the last few years, as well as the one who’s seeing them for the first time.
Seattle’s Fleet Foxes have been in New York City twice in the past four months. Though the set list for Sunday night’s show at Webster Hall was almost identical to that from their show at Bowery Ballroom in July, the two performances were wildly divergent. Where the show at Bowery was akin to quietly singing ballads around smoldering embers, the Webster Hall set felt more like a hootenanny around a story-high bonfire.Á‚ There are a couple factors in play – frontman Robin Pecknold was sick at the Bowery show, but seemed in good health at Webster, and the Bowery is a more intimate setting. Regardless, both shows were excellent for different reasons.
Though Pecknold’s voice didn’t sound off in July, hearing it at its full capacity was a clear improvement, if only for the sheer power. When he unplugged his guitar and stepped away from the mic for a solo cover of Karen Dalton’s “Katie Cruel,” his voice carried perfectly to every corner of the massive club. Though it certainly helped that he managed to bring the audience — a New York City audience — to near-perfect silence. (It can be done!) Once again, they charmed the entire crowd, and once again, the audience was appreciative to the point of obnoxiousness. The band even made a tongue-in-cheek comment about the return of the cat-call, but it didn’t stop people from whooping literally almost every minute, even throughout softer songs.
Despite what felt like a landmark performance in July, and having performed at the Grand Ballroom the night before, Pecknold admitted being nervous at the beginning of the show. But that nervousness never showed beyond that statement. With Pecknold struck by illness earlier in the year, the performance felt more collective, but with Pecknold in prime condition, he clearly emerged as the driving force, both in attitude and in song. Whether quiet, pretty, rousing or loud, every number had more of a punch, and the band was chattier in-between songs, making quips about Williamsburg and expensive cupcakes.
Sunday night’s show boasted two powerful additions the Bowery show lacked: the aforementioned unplugged Karen Dalton cover, and a new song they said was still in the works (which is why, one assumes, they didn’t mention a title). Pecknold clearly asked it not be put on YouTube, but a band in the midst of any sort of hype will have a hard time finding such luck. If the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reference must be made, then if their current material is more “Helplessly Hoping,” the new song was more “Ohio.” The new song also brought the announcement that the band is going to start recording soon.
If Fleet Foxes can do this much with just 16 songs in their catalog, they’ll prove to be a band worth seeing again and again and again for years to come.
Sun It Rises
Drops in the River
White Winter Hymnal
Crayon Angels (Judee Sill Cover)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Encore: Katie Cruel (Karen Dalton Cover, Unplugged)
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Blue Ridge Mountains
For more pictures, see here.