Words and Photography by Shayna Chabrow
Fleet Foxes performed an epic two hour, 21 song setlist at the Crystal Ballroom Thursday night filled with a slew of new and beloved old music. The anticipation for the show was electric; the immediately sold-out show was to be their third U.S. performance since announcing their return. The band hadn’t put out new music since their highly praised 2011 album Helplessness Blues so the wait for diehard fans to see them play was about to finally end.
Before Fleet Foxes stepped out, projected onto a multicolored screen was the text “Welcome to the show (we missed you)” and “We kindly request no filming of any kind” on the next slide. The band was set to play unreleased new music off their upcoming album Crack-Up (out June 16th) and it was clear that this was to be an exclusive experience for fans who had managed to snag a ticket. The Seattle, Washington band took the stage and their Pacific Northwest fans wailed with excitement. They immediately started with three new, yet to be released tracks, “Arroyo Seco,” “Cassius,” and “Naiads.” Their hiatus had brought them an evolved sound that took their signature folk-rock sound in a new direction.
Pulsating drumbeats were still at the core of their music and their group harmonies continued to be unrivaled. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s falsetto’s were unearthly, crowd voices cracking as they tried to match his. Pecknold appropriately dawned a green camouflage jacket. After coming out of a six year shadow, he was now a vet. He had shed his beard but not his talent. Morgan Henderson was on the side stage as he showed off his proficiency in an extensive assortment of instruments; playing shakers, tambourines (at one point ruthlessly hitting them on the ground), a flute, double bass, saxophone and a tuba. His vast techniques bring a gorgeous flair to the build up of each Fleet Foxes song until they burst into an etherial, plethora of sounds that warmly hug your ears. The stoic Skye Skjelset continuously switched out guitars throughout the show, Pecknold doing the same, providing each song with it’s unique folk-acoustic or sharp-electric tone. His shining moments came when he put a bow to his guitar and gently picked at a mandolin.
Their track “Grown Ocean” was robust with fluttering sounds until the instrumentation abruptly stopped, the song ending with dueling harmonies between Pecknold and guitarist Christian Wargo before the harmonies immediately picked back up for “White Winter Hymnal.” Between each song, there were very little moments of silence. Guitars would linger in the air, Pecknold would pour himself a hot drink while sharing his appreciation with the crowd, and they would all graciously start to lean into the next song. Each song took the crowd on a journey, much of them feeling like two or three with their unique change of tempos and instruments. Their visuals included colorful, psychedelic shapes, moving clouds with lightening, shades of red and blue, and a slowly circulating galaxy during Pecknold’s solo performance of “Crack-Up” when he returned to the stage for their encore.
People danced, bellowed, and raised their arms during “Ragged Wood,” “Mykonos” and “Drops In The River,” swayed during the instrumental “The Cascades,” and tried not to tear up during “Blue Ridge Mountains,” and their closer “Helplessness Blues.” People already knew the words to their two most recent singles “Third of May” and “Fool’s Errand” and listened intently to the soon to be released “Mearcstapa” and “If You Need Me, Keep Time On Me.”
Fleet Foxes’ breathtaking sound was almost too much for the Crystal Ballroom’s speakers to handle. When the band returns in September to play Edgefield, it will be a much more fitting scene. Nonetheless, their performance brought even more excitement for their return as many people left in awe and appreciation.