Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fleet Foxes Live at Middle East Upstairs, Boston, MA, July 14th, 2008

Fleet Foxes has quickly garnered much attention since their first release earlier this year. Their show last night at the Middle East Upstairs had been sold out for weeks, so it was no surprise to overhear “shouldn’t they be playing the Downstairs?” which is the bigger venue. However, an intimate setting proved perfect for the foxes as their old folk sound, earthen lyrics and a heard of vocal harmonies turned the night club into an overgrown mountain pass.

The opening bands were both in contrast with one another and Fleet Foxes, but such is the mold at the Middle East. The first was the pseudo-psychedelic Boston rockers, The Soft Drugs, followed by nerdy songbirds, The Duchess and the Duke.

Everything about Fleet Foxes’ live show was consistent with the tone of their music, presenting quite a thematically cohesive band. Their album cover, name, lyrics and appearance all conjure imagery of northwestern wilderness. They looked just like the kind of humble, bearded mountain men you would expect to play songs about red squirrels, quivering forests and white winters. Even the way lead vocalist Robin Pecknold’s mouth gnarls when he sings reminds one of twisted wood. The organ-like synth and mandolin played by Casey Westcott capture the folk feel of the music all the while still incorporating heavier elements of Christian Wargo’s bass, Skye Skjelset’s electric and Nick Peterson’s drums.

To say Robin Pecknold is the "lead singer" is a relative term. He guided the melodic foray into multiple levels of harmonies from four of the five other members. Their voices were instruments, sometimes comprising a portion or an entire song as in “Sun Giant,” the band’s opener from their EP with the same name. These vocal chants sounded otherworldly and possessed the audience likewise.

The band seemed genuinely surprised by the excited ovations they received, Pecknold shyly thanking them, when breaking to tune or switch instruments. Many times one song would seamlessly flow into another, leaving little time for the audience to applaud. Pecknold joked that he felt like they needed a grandiose "trash can ending" so that the audience would know the song was over. However, the crowd wasn’t inattentive, they were soaking up every moment of the uninterrupted baroque harmonic pop jams.

“White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” were broken up by Wargo and Peterson’s banter about flan. Wargo had stolen a menu from the Upstairs restaurant, which reminded Peterson to tell Wargo, “Don’t order for me again dude. It’s embarrassing. I’m my own person … But I will have the flan.”

When the band left the stage for Pecknold to play acoustically, he covered “Crayon Angel,” a Judee Sill song which he fervently recommended the audience check out. The band returned and altered their arrangements a bit. During “Mykonos” Skjelset played his guitar with a bow and plugged in a mandolin to drive the melody in “Blue Ridge Mountains.”

As the audio-meadow that the foxes created faded away at the end of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” the audience was left cheering for more. Soon we will be seeing Fleet Foxes playing on much bigger mountains.


~Lee Stepien

Photography by Alison Klien

Published at WERS.org on July 15, 2008

No comments:

Post a Comment