Fleet Foxes hit D.C. this week, and seeing them at DAR Constitution Hall in downtown D.C. made me feel like I was sitting in an extremely large coffee shop in Seattle, with lots of girls in horn-rimmed glasses, and guys all wearing variations of the same plaid flannel. Fleet Foxes, or “Fresh Foxes,” as a local DC news station referred to them during a weekend events update, have a unique sound, which has garnered them critical praise and strong album sales since they broke into the indie music scene four years ago. Though there are some obvious influences, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Elliott Smith, any folk music from the 60s, early country, and even the Beach Boys, they are still a difficult band to peg or pigeonhole. There is an obvious folk/country quality to their music, and when I hear them, I think of mournful church choirs – though it’s more a hippie-beardo choir, singing with a reverence for nature and the world around them. I’d go to that church.
On tour right now for the release of their second album, Helplessness Blues, just released this May, Fleet Foxes developed a huge following in 2008, without any hit singles, based on the strength of their brilliant second EP, Sun Giant, and their first album, Fleet Foxes. Opening up for Fleet Foxes currently is another Seattle band, The Cave Singers, reformed with former members of Pretty Girls Make Graves. For a three-piece, The Cave Singers put out a pretty good rusty-vocals, blues-fueled foot-stompin’ opening performance.
Unfortunately, this show was at DAR Constitution Hall in downtown DC, as I have to say DAR really does not seem to be made for concerts. If you sit on either side, especially up high, the sight lines can be bad, and the acoustics seem poor from almost any seat. Despite this, a quieter show like Fleet Foxes came off really well, unlike, say, a roaring My Morning Jacket show I saw there two years ago, where the music turned into mush, especially the higher up you sat.
Playing nine of the 12 songs on Helplessness Blues, two songs from the Sun Giant EP (including the powerfully beautiful “Mykonos”), and seven songs from their first album, Fleet Foxes sliced and diced a great set of tracks from all of their popular releases up to this point. Their harmonies immediately beckon one to sing along, and through many tracks, the crowd did just that, though more at a low murmur, rather than a full-out sing along. The last song of the encore, “Helplessness Blues,” the title track, especially roused the crowd from their mellow attentiveness to stand up and sing along.
Fleet Foxes’ music has a sort of timeless quality, with their soaring, perfect harmonies, full and rich acoustic textures, and plaintive lyrics, recalling ‘60s folkster poets, rhapsodizing over the loss of innocence. And innocent, at least at this point, is how the extremely young six band members of Fleet Foxes come off. Robin Pecknold, the band leader and songwriter, is only 24 years old, having put together Fleet Foxes in the Seattle area in 2006.
For the current album, recorded on the Sub Pop label, Pecknold says, “we all went up to Woodstock, New York, to record at Dreamland Recording, where our friends in Beach House had had a good experience recording their last album Teen Dream.” There is a dreamy quality to Fleet Foxes studio music, which still comes through when you see them live, and the list of different acoustic instruments they play is impressive. Their harmonies are precise, and they all seem to have wonderful voices. This, combined with their tight acoustic sound, made for a mesmerizing live performance. There is an intelligent and quiet beauty to all of their music, which seems to foretell the potential for a band that is here to stay, and be brilliantly creative for a long time. The concert ended as it had begun, with the crowd rising to their feet to applaud this band that obviously pours their hearts (and minds) into all of their music.
Check out the setlist here.
Musichord Rating: 9/10