Review: Fleet Foxes at Pabst Theater

Photo and story by Andrew Falk

Autumn is really the only time of year when I’d be excited to see Fleet Foxes live. Their self-titled debut record was released to much acclaim in June, but these are definitely not the sounds of summer. Just like Dungen sounds way better in the spring, Missy Elliott sounds perfect in the summertime, and PJ Harvey’s album White Chalk is amazing on frigid winter nights, Fleet Foxes have the certified soundtrack of fall 2008.

The sold-out show at Pabst Theater was opened by Frank Fairfield, a purveyor of authentic backwoods folk music who sounded like he’d stepped off a time machine from 1930. Switching between fiddle, banjo and guitar, Fairfield and his warbling, incomprehensible lyrics engaged about half of the audience and baffled the other.

Fleet Foxes received a hero’s welcome from the enthusiastic crowd, and after an a Capella introduction, the began their leisurely paced set with album opener “Sun It Rises.” The five-piece band created a full, majestic sound, with front man Robin Pecknold belting pastoral lyrics accompanied by gorgeous harmonies from three of his band mates. Their songs largely eschew modern sounds, instead of drawing solely from melodic folk-rock legends of the ’60s and ’70s. It was refreshing to hear the crowd embrace something other than the flavor of the week; Fleet Foxes are an earnest band playing soaring pieces like “Your Protector” and the warmly received single “White Winter Hymnal.” The middle section of “He Doesn’t Know Why” had an undeniable power, as Pecknold sang “There’s nothing I can say/There’s nothing I can do” over a strong beat that sounded positively mighty with the volume and dynamics of a live show. It’s hard to tell if their throwback sound is a deliberate reaction against modern artists trying to strike gold with a shiny novel style and no real songwriting ability, or if Fleet Foxes simply write all their songs in a log cabin because that’s just their scene.

The epic power of the songs occasionally summoned bands like Mogwai or Sigur Ros, but the aesthetic was still rooted in Neil Young (the Crazy Horse years) with occasional vocal inspiration from the Beach Boys. The band’s sound was bigger, grander and more affecting than on record, and judging by the new song they played during the encore, they are getting even better. A band this accomplished with only one album is a rare thing, and they show tremendous promise.


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