While Fleet Foxes’ 2020 album Shore includes a subversive take on the American road song that trades romanticized travels for world weariness, that latter sentiment was nowhere to be found during the band’s exuberant tour stop at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, July 9.
Taking a cue from the Grammy-nominated LP’s sequencing, the show opens with frontman Robin Pecknold taking over the vox on “Wading in Waist-High Water.” His signature baritenor adds a hushed depth to the soothing rendition, which slowly builds into a lush soundscape aided by the mesmerizing horn section.
There were the fan favorites like “Ragged Wood” — and the band took the first movement of this “ornate song” in a more country-fied direction, complete with an extra helping of jangly flourishes. A lot of Pecknold’s songs are so heavy on the drama that the song structure is divvied up by acts rather than typical verse-chorus proceedings. And that hyper-segmentation certainly carried over to the stage, as each section felt like its own self-contained world.
At one point, fans called for a fit check, which Pecknold jokingly obliged by revealing he was wearing an Ocarina of Time shirt under his coat — a fact that might not surprise diehards familiar with the band’s deep cuts.
Speaking of which, he graced the crowd with one of the most elusive tracks in their back catalog. “You’re gonna watch a man try to play a song he hasn’t played in 10 years,” he said in response to a cacophony of song requests in the pit. The song in question? “Isles,” a B-side from the late aughts that has been performed so sparingly, only a 2007 live recording could be unearthed before this night. It turns out that Pecknold’s memory recall is in top shape given that he trotted out a faithful rendering of this understated morsel of Appalachian folk.
The Foxes’ earlier fixation on earthy themes mapped onto this outdoor venue strikingly well, as the pre-show’s looping video of ocean ripples accompanied the seaside view from the Bowl. “[Santa Barbara’s] very floral and fragrant with the sea air,” the frontman observed mid-show. “I can see why David Crosby’s voice has held up so well.”
It’s fitting, then, that the most show stoppingest of moments happens during a song that uses sailing as an entrypoint for self examination. “Mearcstapa” is a haunting slow burn that sees multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson trading the flute of performances past for the sax as the horn section let loose a torrent of controlled chaos. The synergetic wall of sound was so face-melting that the frontman summed it up by quipping, “This was for anyone who took shrooms when the show started.”
But it was the closer, “Helplessness Blues,” that exploded into a joyful extravaganza. For a song about wanting to be a “cog in the machine,” a mirroring effect took over the crowd as the windshield wiper arms in the pit quickly spread into a large human wave. It was then that Pecknold’s odes to solitary life receded into the frenzy of his nine-member ensemble.