Fleet Foxes – Live at The Tabernacle 5/14/2011

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On the way to this show, my concert buddy and I speculated about the average age of the crowd.  Given the group’s focus on vocal harmonies laid on top of (largely) acoustical instruments, there was little doubt that we expected an older crowd – significantly older than the band members.

As this wouldn’t be a particularly demonstrative show, we opted for an early arrival to either lean against the rail up close or grab a balcony seat. Skipping a bar for a pre-concert beverage, we opted for the parking deck to swiftly enjoy an Allagash Dubbel (Belgian style) Ale, a beer worthy of more deliberate savoring.  In any case, on we go.

Arriving a few minutes before 7:00, we found a line of people waiting, and not a short one.  Down the street, around the corner and halfway down the block, we entered the line.  We knew it was sold out, but this was unexpected.

After grabbing the first row in the second balcony, another revelation was that Fleet Foxes 1) appeal to the college age 2) are suitable for a lively couples scene and 3) provide music suitable for getting stoned (as evidenced by a particular aroma).  I might have guessed that my son’s familiarity with the band (and one of his friends as well) that this music is not just liked by old folks.  Though, old folks who like Crosby, Stills, and Nash should like Fleet Foxes.

The opening act, The Cave Singers, was a trio with singer, a riff-laden guitarist, and drummer.  They were fairly energetic, but the singer’s raspy voice and uneven acoustics resulted in few understandable words.  Entertaining, to a degree, but they didn’t show anything that invited future interest.

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The acoustics, then, were then a bit worrisome for a Fleet Foxes performance.  Their songs are solid, but the vocal harmonies are really what sets them apart. Fleet Foxes includes Robin Pecknold (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Skye Skjelset (acoustic and electric guitars), Joshua Tillman (vocals/drums), Christian Wargo (vocals, guitar, electric bass), Casey Wescott (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, flute), and new member Morgan Henderson (upright bass, flute, clarinet, Bari Sax(?)).  They occupy a lot of stage space, but other than assistants helping with guitar swaps, it would be a fairly static performance.  As might be expected for this type of band, there were no backdrops or video content.  It’s about the music.

After a 20 minute or so break, they took the stage.  The unexpected continued as the now-filled Tabernacle raised the roof with a raucous welcome, this for a group that doesn’t get much press locally, as evidenced by not being included in the weekend’s Best Bets in the local newspaper. 

The first song, “The Cascades,” was a bit worrisome, as the drums seemed to muddle both the guitars and the vocals, but when the group set the instruments aside for a cappella harmonies, the sound was excellent.  Shortly afterwards, it seemed the sound people made some adjustments for a good concert experience. 

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Lead man Pecknold interacted regularly with the crowd, amusingly assisted by Tillman at times, and gave tribute to the crowd for choosing them over the Bon Jovi show concurrently playing at nearby Philips Arena.  The band did their best to win over a crowd that was already theirs, supported with appreciative roars and frequent sing-alongs.  The Seattle band seemed rather mystified at the adoration present in this market, as the crowd ovations were overwhelming here and apparently the previous night in Nashville, TN.  But with great songs, great vocals, and perfectly executed harmonies, there’s much for a crowd to like.

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With only two CDs and an EP to their credit, a fine representative sampling was played from all.  The audience was surprisingly familiar with the band’s new songs from Helplessness Blues, released only 12 days earlier.

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Another unexpected experience was leaving the venue with my ears ringing.  From the rather precious mix of sounds on their recordings, I didn’t expect the tinnitus reminder.  Oh well!  I can’t help but wonder what this band would sound like in a a more acoustically evolved auditorium, such as at The Rialto.

In any venue, this is a highly recommended concert for those that like to hear live music.

Set List:

The Cascades Ragged Wood
Grown Ocean Lorelai
Drops in the River Montezuma
Battery Kinzie He Doesn’t Know Why
Bedouin Dress The Shrine/An Argument
Sim Sala Bim Blue Spotted Tail
Mykonos Blue Ridge Mountains
Your Protector Encore:
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song Oliver James
White Winter Hymnal Helplessness Blues

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