July 17, 2011
Seattle's Fleet Foxes sold out the State Theatre on Sunday night, but instead of a tranquil and transfixing sit-down show by the highly-acclaimed sextet, some of the audience behaved as if the concert was instead being held at the rowdy 7th St. Entry. A few foul-mouthed members of the crowd sitting in the balcony ruined the great vibe built up by the start of the performance by disruptively complaining about the sound between songs, temporarily derailing the 95-minute show that both started and finished strongly, but could have been even more magical had the interruption not taken place.
The performance began splendidly, with frontman Robin Pecknold immediately greeting the packed house with a warm hello, telling us that it's good to be back and that he "feels like there's a big Pacific Northwest/Minneapolis affinity, like a Scandinavian underground railroad linking us together." And with that the band launched into a exploratory rendition of the instrumental "The Cascades," which allowed them to gradually settle into the stage and their surroundings. But it didn't take them that long to catch fire. "Grown Ocean" absolutely soared, swelling to an emphatic, boisterous finish that featured the pitch-perfect harmonies that the band is known for, which continued on an absolutely gorgeous version of "Drops In The River," that was dynamic and lively.
On an absolutely sweltering summer evening, Pecknold joked with the crowd about the intense heat and humidity, asking us, "When is the best time to be in Minneapolis?" And, when someone answered October, Robin teased us by saying, "Tonight's show is hereby canceled and rescheduled for October 1st," which prompted a funny conversation amongst the band about our Oktoberfest. It seemed that everyone was relaxed and at ease, and the band's easygoing rapport had comfortably forged a strong connection with the crowd. It's too bad that amiable atmosphere would soon change.
"Battery Kinzie" was fiery and fantastic, and firmly established that the new tracks from Helplessness Blues are not diaphanous folk numbers but rather fully-formed rock songs that take on an added urgency and pulse in a live setting. The strong start continued with a gorgeous rendition of Blues standout "Bedouin Dress," which caused the theater to grow stone silent during the dramatic harmonies featured in the middle and the end of the stirring song. It was simply an amazing number, and was one of the clear early set highlights. But apparently not to some people sitting in the balcony, who took the time that Pecknold was taking to tune his guitar to shout at the band: "It sounds like fucking shit up here." "It's too loud." "We can't hear your vocals." There were other profanities mixed in with their complaints, all of which caught the band (and especially Robin) off guard and caused drummer Joshua Tillman to caustically remark, "There's considerably less vibe in here now."
Pecknold did try to legitimately address their concerns by asking, "So, what you're saying is you need more vocals at the top of the house," and giving their sound guy plenty of time to adjust the mix before launching into "Sim Sala Bim." But the connection with the crowd was severed by the outburst, and Robin wouldn't say much more than thank you until the end of the show. The sound mix was indeed adjusted (and hopefully got better for those in the balcony), but the natural camaraderie between the band and the crowd was lost, sadly, causing Tillman to remark, "We appreciate your enthusiasm, but that kind of yelling puts us in a weird headspace." But whatever headspace they were in couldn't ruin the potent one-two punch of "Mykonos" and "Your Protector," both of which were blistering and forceful.
And while the rest of the crowd emphatically tried to make up for the rudeness of a few by cheering even louder between songs, the band instead turned to the familiarity of each other while delivering moving versions of "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "White Winter Hymnal." They really hit their stride again on a towering, spirited rendition of "Ragged Wood," with the old numbers consistently sounding much more expansive and assured throughout the show. After a roadie brought out a cup of tea for Robin, the band kept the strong momentum up with a raucous version of "Lorelai" that was another highlight of the show. And, even though "Montezuma" was on the setlist and unfortunately went unplayed, the show seemed to be back on the right track.
Until Pecknold tentatively said, "Do I dare ask how it's going?" between songs, at which time a girl ill-advisedly shouted out "I want to have your babies." Really? We all love the band, but come on. But the band soldiered on (wisely not taking any more lengthy breaks between songs), nailing an impassioned and vigorous version of their epic suite, "The Shrine/An Argument." It featured an intense, rousing finish, complete with an Ornette Coleman-like, free-jazz saxophone riff that sounded like birds chirping. Pecknold led the way on a lovely, mostly solo rendition of "Blue Spotted Tail" that ended with him harmonizing delicately with Tillman. And, despite the annoying yelling between songs, while the band was playing everyone was silent and respectful throughout the performance.
Tillman tried to make one last friendly bond with the audience, saying, "I'd like to take a moment to think what it would be like to high-five each and every one of you," before the band launched into the main-set closer, "Blue Ridge Mountains." After they finished with the grand, glorious number, the crowd rose to their feet in a standing ovation that saw them off the stage, remaining on their feet straight through the encore.
Pecknold came out alone after a few minutes, and delicately addressed the earlier incident: "I sincerely hope the sound issues were worked out...but next time the sound is off, instead of screaming shit out at us, talk to the sound guy." But he seemed a bit uncomfortable even talking about it, so it took him a while to settle himself before easing his way into an exquisite version of "Oliver James," that found him beating on his guitar for added percussion with the crowd clapping right along. The rest of the band joined him afterwords, and the show closed with a fervid rendition of "Helplessness Blues" that ended the night emphatically. And while Fleet Foxes were certainly disheartened by the behavior of a few members of the audience, their songs have the strength and beauty to save any show, and thankfully, by the end of the night, the music won out.
Critic's Bias: This was my fourth time seeing Fleet Foxes, and while I miss the intimacy of their Entry and Cedar shows, their sweeping, robust sound has clearly outgrown those small rooms and sounded great (to me at least) in the confines of the theater.
The Crowd: Seriously, I've mentioned them enough.
Overheard In The Crowd: See above.
Random Notebook Dump: Alela Diane and Wild Divine opened the show with a countrified, earnest set, the highlight of which was a tender duet between Diane and her father (who was in her backing band) on "The Rifle."
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.
Drops In The River
Sim Sala Bim
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
White Winter Hymnal
He Doesn't Know Why
The Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Blue Ridge Mountains
Oliver James (Encore)
Helplessness Blues (Encore)
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