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When Fleet Foxes began their Greek Theater set with the beautifully haunting “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” off their 2011 release Helplessness Blues, it was as if 5,000 people had a communal realization at the exact same moment: that you couldn’t find a better backdrop than Griffith Park and a full moon. As the song shifted halfway through from classically constructed psychedelia accented by multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson’s fluid flute accompaniment, to a robust, energetic dance with the audience strapped in for the ride, it seemed the band appreciated their place, too, looking upon the faithful masses with appreciation and maybe a hint of awe.
The song’s lyric, “At arm’s length, I will hold you there,” indicated what would be the theme of the night — intimacy, despite the immense grandeur of the amphitheater. At the same time, it served as a reminder of just how far the Seattle band had come in five years. Although still signed to iconic indie Sub Pop Records, judging by the sold-out crowd, they long ago graduated from band-of-the-moment to one whose time had come.
Lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Robin Pecknold led the band through a set heavy on music from their most recent album, but also backtracked to Fleet Foxes’ 2008 EP Sun Giant and the song “Mykonos,” a fan favorite that exemplifies their famous harmonies and Pecknold’s flawless vibrato. He delivered it all the more dramatically with projections of outer space and mountain ranges flashing nostalgia behind the band, while drummer-singer Joshua Tillman brought Pecknold’s soothing vocals to a bold crescendo, ending the song just in time to announce that a lucky member of the audience was going to “win a fucking Porsche.” That lightened the mood and elicited plenty of hoots and hollers from the crowd.
During “Bedouin Dress,” the third track off Helplessness Blues, the audience enthusiastically clapped along to the line, “The borrower’s debt is the only regret of my youth” — as if to make the melody sting a little more. Then again, the sentiment felt strangely appropriate amongst the flannel-clad, ripped-jeans youth filling the the Greek. The folksy ballad, saturated in chords played by Casey Wescott on piano, eased the band into a steady groove.
Guitarist Skyler Skjelset, Wescott and Henderson exited the stage after the band performed “Ragged Wood,” leaving Tillman and bassist Christian Wargo beneath the warm, orange glow of the spotlight to accompany Pecknold as he began “Montezuma,” the opening track from Helplessness Blues. It was a tender moment for Pecknold, revealing more of himself in the number than any previous songs. Neon triangle projections slowly rose in the background behind him, blending into a kaleidescopic etch-o-sketch once his band joined him back on stage and helped transition into “He Doesn’t Know Why.” Showcasing their immense talent and synchronicity, Fleet Foxes began bleeding their songs into each other so smoothly the audience barely had the chance to notice.
While the band kept a somewhat reserved rapport with the audience throughout the night, never formally introducing themselves or the members, Tillman made up for this distance by interjecting amusing quips to fill the gaps. Explaining his recent move to Los Angeles, Tillman mused at the fact that so few people know him as the drummer of an internationally acclaimed band. “I’m just the guy that drives around in, like, a big white rape van,” he cracked.
Considering Fleet Foxes started their rise to fame mainly by word of mouth (and piracy), their success and popularity to date is astounding. And while they started out giving a nod to late sixties folk-rock legends like Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, primarily because of their natural, breathtaking harmonies, Helplessness Blues steers the band towards away from their sweet spot comfort zone, adding darkness to their honeyed sound and an added depth to Pecknold’s incredibly personal lyrics.
Following a quick breather, Fleet Foxes returned to the stage for their encore and proceeded to play four songs, ending their set with the title track of their new album. Even after 90 minutes, the audience was on its feet and wanting more. “I’ll come back to you someday soon,” sang Pecknold, as if reading their minds. For this crowd, it wouldn’t be soon enough.
The Plains / Bitter Dancer
Sim Sala Bim
White Winter Hymnal
He Doesn’t Know Why
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
I Let You
Sun It Rises
Blue Ridge Mountains
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