Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fleet Foxes at El Rey Sept. 22

I've witnessed nirvana and it's called Fleet Foxes. At their first sold out show at the El Rey on Monday, September 22, 2008, they left their audience in a state of sublime ecstasy not easily shaken off. When the set concluded, the whole room seemed to be glowing and vibrating as people wandered around dazed and happy.

Since I knew I wanted to be up close, I pressured my co-concerteers into getting to the El Rey by 8:30. Walking in, there was already a cluster in front of the stage so we headed right down front and planted ourselves about 6 people deep from center stage. As close as we could get and it turned out to be perfect, both visually and aurally.

Frank Fairfield opened the show and he easily captivated the unsuspecting crowd with his extraordinary gifts as a musician and singer. I wasn't sure how his singular presence would translate in a venue the size of this one. I needn't have worried because, beginning with fiddle, he lulled us into an hypnotic state and transported us to the dust bowl of the 1930's. His intense, authentic sounding vocals perfectly compliment the beautiful drone of his fiddle bowing. Then onto banjo where he excells to a greater degree, and mesmerizes the audience who were shouting and whooping their approval. Picking up the guitar, he played "Hesitation Blues", which I love, and another favorite, "Old Paint", which tells a poignant little tale of a cowboy and his horse.

The audience was nicely respectful (except for some gabbers way in the back) and enthusiastic for this unusual, truly unique artist and I was grateful. Having seen him twice before and having spent some time chatting with him on those occasions, I could tell he was pleased by the crowd's genuine and generous response to his stunning recreation of early American roots music.

During the break the people packed in around us. Like I said, it was sold out. But the crowd was of a mellow and gentle sort, so, even packed in like sardines, everyone was cool (attitude-wise... temperature-wise the place was warm).

The curtains opened just after 10 and the Fleet Foxes blew everyone's mind within fifteen seconds. Robin Pecknold strums a note, and first he, then all the singers tune their voices to that one note before launching into their a capella opener, "Sun Giant". They sing at a glacial pace, compared to the recorded version, that renders the song even more beautiful. Those harmonies sailed out into the El Rey, perfectly miked and perfectly balanced. This was some of the best sound I've ever heard.

They segued into "Sun It Rises" next and the band kicks in full force. That ringing, chiming sound beneath some modern Gregorian chants that are played with a power and intensity that makes their recordings sound tame. I love the recordings because the songs are interpreted precicely and carefully, giving the listener the opportunity to get to know the music in a clean, uncluttered way. But it also enables the band to knock an audience out with the surprising "wham factor" of each song live.

They played almost all the songs from their EP Sun Giant and the Fleet Foxes CD. As the evening flew by, they performed stunning versions of "Drops In the River", "English House", "White Winter Hymnal", "Ragged Wood', "He Doesn't Know Why" and "Your Protector". The band left the stage as Robin performed a couple of acoustic numbers. He played the song I was most sorry not to hear in their sets last June at the Echo and Spaceland, "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" which is one of their most beautiful songs, both lyrically and musically. The way Robin sings out with passion, grit and such discipline, he never hits a false note.

The band reassembled to finish out their set, ending with "Mykonos". On the EP the song ends in a fade out, but live, they extend the ending to it's lyrical, logical conclusion with some of the most beautiful layered harmony vocals I've ever heard in my life. Exiting the stage to tumultuous applause and cheers, Robin came back out a few minutes later and the audience went wild over his solo,"Oliver James" with it's a capella ending. The other Fleet Foxes joined him for two more songs, one, a new one they had never played before an audience, was practically a highlight of the whole set. And then it was over.

The band seemed so comfortable on stage with far more between song banter that I'd yet seen them engage in. It was almost like listening to how they might interact during a rehearsal, so easy and unforced and unpretentious. Obviously, this is the character of the performers themselves. Even after the set they came out to greet their audience and I got to meet Skyler, the lead guitarist. He was speaking with longtime friends fron the Pacific Northwest, Evan and Brett Marie Way of our now local fabulous Parson Red Heads. Then I met Casey, their keyboardist, who was very gracious as I gushed.

This was a night I'll never forget! Looking around at all the young people in the audience, it was heartening to see them so intently focused on this beautiful music. As I said to my friend, Sue, at a certain point, it felt like falling in love. She agreed. Robin speaks a lot in the liner notes of the CD's about the transformative power of music. If that's what Fleet Foxes are after, they have succeeded brilliantly.


1 comment:

A Beautiful Fiasco said...

I've seen some great shows lately, but last night, that left me speechless. My friend and I kept throwing each other glances of disbelief. Easily, one of my most satisfying concert-going experiences.

Lovely folk lyricism+a Wilson-esque devotion to harmonies+Appalachian mysticism+English madrigals+the wittiest banter/best camaraderie I've ever been privy to at a concert=Fleet Foxes=amazement.