Fleet Foxes at the Cedar: The anti-rock stars

The Cedar Cultural Center has stayed near the top of my list of favorite venues for a long time now; its intimate setting, stellar sound system and DIY aesthetic work together to create a one-of-a-kind experience. Something was off, however, at Saturday night's two Fleet Foxes shows, and it unfortunately made it hard to fully enjoy the performance by America's Next Top Indie Band.

Fleet Foxes lead singer Robin Pecknold. See more of Stacy Schwartz's photos from the show in her slideshow.

Hosted by First Avenue, the concert's organizers opted to ditch the normal seating arrangement and pack in more people by making the show standing room only, adding about 200 extra bodies to the Cedar's normally 400-odd capacity room. The larger crowd size and lack of air conditioning on an unseasonably hot October evening created sweltering, sometimes dizzying conditions for the crowd. The audience was also unusually chatty during the opener, something I wasn't used to encountering at this normally pin-drop quiet venue.

Despite the aforementioned issues, however, Fleet Foxes gave an outstanding performance. Lead singer Robin Pecknold was downright disarming, wiping the sweat from his long, matted hair with a towel between songs and joking comfortably with his bandmates and the audience. As soon as the group started to sing, their four-part harmonies collided and wove together to create a seamless, lush tapestry of sound, an effect that is lacking from most contemporary music. I'd heard Beach Boys and CSNY comparisons tossed around in discussions of Fleet Foxes, which was definitely discernible; on the same note, their ease at creating vocal harmonies reminded me of the time I saw Golden Smog play an acoustic set.

Fleet Foxes at the Cedar: The anti-rock stars

Fleet Foxes keyboardist Casey Wescott. Photo by Stacy Schwartz.

As I was watching the band play, I couldn't help but think of an article I had read the day before about local pop band the Melismatics, who were busy playing their own CD-release show across town at the Fine Line Saturday night. The Melismatics were featured in a lengthy, uncharacteristically glowing writeup by the Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider last week, and in it Riemenschneider made an interesting comment:

The Melismatics have everything the fading corporate labels always used to want in bands -- a flashy stage show, a stylish look, lots of hook-laden songs and, of course, a record producer who's worked with other big-selling acts... Inquiring minds can't help but wonder how far a band like this one -- vs. some scruffy shoe-gazing indie-rock band -- can go in the do-it-yourself world.

Riemenschneider makes an interesting point here about the way the music industry has shifted in recent years, allowing a group of long-haired indie dudes from Seattle to blow up while edging out bands who perform in a more polished, choreographed manner. Whether this trend is taking us in a positive or negative direction is yet to be seen, but the shift was definitely palpable on this particular evening.

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