As a dyed-in-the-wool music fan, it’s rather gratifying to watch a band ascend from the ranks of relative unknown to the enviable height of homecoming success story. As fellow music aficionados, I’m sure we can all boast about a band that we knew way back when, or an album we purchased before anyone else. Shoot, I know I gots hella bands you ain’t heard yet…the White Stripes? Check ‘em out. This local band the Blakes? Awesome, get their record. I kid, I kid. Frankly, I’m not here to brag, but there is a real sense of satisfaction that comes with witnessing a sold-out show for a group whose trajectory I’ve followed for some time. Case in point: baroque pop jammers Fleet Foxes, one of the more talented bands to come out of Seattle in recent years.
You may not be a fan of the outfit’s hymnal bucolic folk, but if you had been at Neumos last Friday night (4/18), you would’ve no doubt been impressed with at least the opening choral song, Sun Giant’s leadoff title track (sans mandolin). Bandleader Robin Pecknold and bassist Christian Wargo pilot most of the vocal harmonies throughout the Foxes sound, and they delivered with an astonishing climb into the stratosphere to start things off. Most bands amp up the guitar and drums more than anything else, but the focus with this one is clearly “more vocals in the monitor.” The sound engineer did a fine job at Neumos that night (though the drums could’ve used a boost), and the voices of the two main vocalists carried quite well. My lady made the comment following the first song, “How many bands can do THAT?” Not many, I answered.
The band proceeded to follow in order with the next two tracks off Sun Giant, “Drops in the River” and “English House”, much to the enjoyment of the crowd who were unabashedly there to support the local troupe; labelmates and headliners Blitzen Trapper aside. Much of the audience had clearly dissipated by the middle of BT’s set, and looking over my shoulder to the sea of heads during the Foxes set cemented this conviction even further. Next up were a few songs from their forthcoming full-length, including “White Winter Hymnal” and “Sun It Rises”. Pecknold played solo on another. Yielding to its popularity, fan-favorite “Mykonos” was played toward the end of the set, shortly before BT came on stage to offer brotherhood and five different versions of percussion (tambourines, shakers, etc.). The two groups had clearly bonded over their recent tour together, a first for the sly Foxes, who were quite overwhelmed with the adoration the hometown fans were showing. Pecknold kept saying how much he “loved Seattle.” Good for him, so do I.
The Fleet Foxes’ carefully considered songs played live aren’t quite as polished as their recordings would have you believe, but that’s not to say the guys aren’t accomplished musicians. Just more organic. True, some of the supplementary instrumentation that adorns their record goes by the wayside when they step on stage (to reiterate, someone build a statue of Phil Ek in a town square somewhere), but their music endures. Skye Skjelset, the lead guitarist, meticulously strums his jangly guitar, while drummer Nick Peterson pounds his toms with an ominous and lively excellence. Keyboardist Casey Westcott adds some harmony and texture of his own. I realize that they are still a fairly young band, but I’m excited to see how they progress and how their LP turns out.
The band is fast becoming a popular draw, as they don their Sasquatch attire next month. Saturday, the festival’s best day, will feature them along with other local heroes such as Grand Archives, Vince Mira, and Modest Mouse. Sustained success and inflation have made this a spendy concert, but it will be a good one. Start growing your beards now.