United Palace Theater
Wednesday, May 18
Better than: Staying home and listening to Simon & Garfunkel records.
Fleet Foxes’ pastoral folk can strike some modern listeners as old-fashioned and derivative.
But Wednesday’s sold-out performance at the United Palace Theater was a vivid reminder of how the Seattle-based six-piece has neither imitated nor reinvented folk music–they’ve instead internalized it and made a familiar form, maybe the most familiar form, their own: intricate baroque compositions buoyed by lush, carefully wrought four-man harmonies that evoke the Beach Boys, the Zombies and CSNY.
In New York City for the first time since 2008, the band played 10 songs off its outstanding LP Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop), which hit shelves May 3. The capacity crowd at the former movie palace uptown remained seated as the band’s elaborate blend of the delicate and the muscular rang throughout the impossibly ornate room, which was lined with a kind of red and gold-foil wallpaper normally found at a great-aunt’s house–an appropriately anachronistic touch. “Thanks again for making the trip,” vocalist-songwriter Robin Pecknold said, in one of a few nervous addresses to the audience. “I know it’s kind of far from… certain places.”
The Foxes’ attention-eschewing frontman seemed genuinely humbled by the adulation as he led the performance from center stage while his bandmates spent the night switching instruments–a flute or mandolin here, a maraca or bass saxophone there. The themes of the songs alternated between overcast Pacific Northwest imagery and weightier topics like mortality and healing, with standouts including the fiddle- and mandolin-backed “Sim Sala Bim” and the tender, slow-building “Blue Ridge Mountain.” “So now I am older/ than my mother and father/ when they had their daughter,” Pecknold crooned on the set-closing “Montezuma,” the mid-twenties reckoning off Helplessness Blues bemoaning the dead ends of selfishness. “Now what does that say about me?”
Minutes after the band left the stage, Pecknold returned alone for a stirring solo performance of “Oliver James” that showed off his heavenly falsetto. The others returned for the show-closing “Helplessness Blues,” which shook the room like no song before it; then the house lights went up, and the crowd quietly filed into the rainy night.
Critical bias: Even from the rear of the orchestra, the music sounded perfectly clear–moreso after the mixer smartly brought down the bass levels early in the show.
Overheard: “They’re good but they’re not that good. It’s all the same song.”
Random notebook dump: So many impeccably sculpted beards.
Drops In The River
Sim Sala Bim
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
White Winter Hymnal
He Doesn’t Know Why
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Blue Ridge Mountains