Pictures and Words by David Brendan Hall
Gallery of Fleet Foxes w_ Bedouine by David Brendan Hall
It’s got to feel somewhat surreal playing live for Fleet Foxes on this tour. Imagine taking a six-year break after releasing two of the most compelling folk albums of the past decade (2008’s self-titled disc and 2011’s Helplessness Blues), then hearing wild cheers for those tunes – the type of hyped up response typically reserved for decades-old classics – as they pop up in the live set. Throughout Thursday night’s nearly 2-hour show at ACL Live, the second of two consecutive sold-out gigs in Austin, fans gave the Seattle outfit (and their most old-school cuts) a hero’s welcome back.
Yet, those most-loved ballads weren’t handed over cheaply. Mirroring the screenplay-inspired narrative that props up new album Crack-Up (it’s worth noting: the liner notes intriguingly contain stage directions), the set list’s backbone and bookends likewise relied on that sort of structure, with favorites like “Ragged Wood,” “He Doesn’t Know Why,” “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountians” popping up in between.
A nearly uninterrupted flow of music began with cool-to-cacophonous medley “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Cassius, -“ and “- Naiads, Cassadies,” was marked in the middle by the trio of “Mearcstapa,” “On Another Ocean (January / June)” and “Fool’s Errand,” and concluded with the new album’s highly introspective title track. Orchestration behind those tracks – layers of two or three guitars, flawless and angelic harmonies led by Robin Pecknold’s incomparable voice, and slew of woodwind accents provided by multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson – showed the extent of the band’s development. With this lineup solidified since 2008 (minus new drummer Matt Barrick of the Walkmen, who replaced Joshua Tillman, now better known as Father John Misty), they can get weird – almost to the point of drowning the melody – but always successfully resolve into some undeniably infectious hook.
Still, the show was strongest for its subtleties. For one, Pecknold’s solo turn under one white spotlight for “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” evoked a reverent hush – as if everyone was holding their breaths for fear of marring the singer’s resonance even in the slightest – that erupted into a heartfelt standing ovation before his band mates rejoined. But perhaps most discreet yet meaningful of all was a slight lyrical tweak toward the ending of anthemic main set closer “Helplessness Blues.”
Where Pecknold would normally repeat, “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore” one last time in a hushed tone, he sang, “No time for an orchard, who knows what’s in store?,” which – for a songwriter with his reputation for intention – can’t be interpreted lightly. Perhaps it signaled the end of the dream that song imagines, one where “you would wait tables and soon run the store,” while denoting an optimistic openness to what the future might hold. Ideally, it holds much, much more marvelous music from Fleet Foxes.
I Am All That I Need / Aroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar
– Naiads, Cassadies
On Another Ocean (January/June)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Robin solo)
White Winter Hymnal
Third of May / Ōdaigahara
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Ridge Mountains
Oliver James (Robin solo)
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