Against a rapidly changing background of abstract projections, Fleet Foxes played to a packed house on Wednesday, September 20. The band’s new album, Crack-Up, released in June, still has Fleet Foxes’ unmistakably folky tones and striking choral harmonies, but the songs are more deconstructed, with clashing, atonal sounds and abrupt transitions.
The audience listened reverently to Fleet Foxes’ opening suite from Crack-Up — “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar,” “Cassius,” and “Naiads, Cassadies” — but it was “Ragged Wood,” from their 2008 debut album, Fleet Foxes, that brought them to their feet. The opening refrain to “White Winter Hymnal” invoked such a wildly enthusiastic response that Robin Pecknold, the band’s lead vocalist and core personality, had trouble getting his laughter under control. It didn’t matter, as a huge part of Pecknold’s appeal as a performer is his humanity. He was barely into the opening number before he was drenched in sweat, and he sings with an earnest concentration that sometimes borders on outright discomfort. He’s great at drawing in his audience, whether he’s shooting a wry, complicit glance or talking about his recent voice lessons. “I feel like Gene Simmons,” he said good-naturedly. “This guy’s been telling me to stick my tongue out to make more room at the back of my throat.”
Ending their set with the title track from Helplessness Blues (2011), Fleet Foxes had the nearly 2,000-strong audience on its feet, swaying and singing along to lyrics that feel newly relevant (it’s the “snowflakes” thing). That’s the band’s genius. The folk and hymnal sounds that they draw from are designed to be a collective experience: They’re simple, cohesive, and memorable. Even when those tunes and harmonies break apart, they invite us along for the ride.