August 1, 2011
Fleet Foxes are the youngest band ever to headline a night at Pitchfork Festival, a spot that’s usually reserved for esteemed, decade-spanning bands like Pavement, Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon and De La Soul. They also mark the first time Pitchfork has chosen an acoustic / folk band to headline the stage, a genre which oftentimes is not best heard in large, outdoor venues. Suffice it to say, the Seattle sextet had immense pressure as they stepped on stage, but if any band are up to the challenge, it’s Fleet Foxes. The band built their reputation on their live performances and they completely lived up the high bar they’ve set for themselves, putting on a triumphant, unforgettable performance.
Although I’ve been a Fleet Foxes fan ever since hearing their magnificent self-titled debut in 2008, this was the first time I’ve been able to see them live. After photographing the first two songs, the charming instrumental “Cascades” and the breathtaking Helplessness Blues-closer “Grown Ocean”, I worked my way through the dense crowd to find a place take in the rest of their set. Frontman Robin Pecknold had been struggling with a fever (according to his twitter) which I though might affect his vocals, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about, his vocals were as powerful and enchanting as ever.
What struck me most about Fleet Foxes’ live show is their mastery of loud / soft dynamics with the songs continuously shifting from intimate acoustic passages to vibrant multi-part crescendos. This was illustrated beautifully throughout the night on tracks like “Sim Sala Bim” which erupts in rapid-fire acoustic guitar thrashing and “Mykonos” which provided one of the most beautiful moments of the night as the four-part harmony took the spotlight during the lush acapella bridge.
As expected the band’s impeccable harmonies were the centerpiece of their performance, echoing through all corners of the ravishing music. The climax of the set had to be the one-two punch of “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood”. The circular harmonies of the former inciting a glorious sing-a-long as the track flowed immediately into the upbeat ebullience of “Ragged Wood” (which caused a wave of excitement that was the perhaps the closest the extremely well-mannered crowd ever got to starting a mosh pit).
The rest of the set was filled with too many wonderful moments to recap. Fan favorites like “Blue Ridge Moments” and “Your Protector” were elegant and stunningly pretty and the new tracks with their expansive orchestral elements, were spellbinding. “The Shrine / Argument” made a spectacular impression with Skyler Skjelset (aka the only member without a Grizzly Adams-like beard) showcasing his instrumental mastery, switching between guitar, cello and saxophone with ease while Robin gave his most demanding lead vocal performance.
The band fittingly closed with “Helplessness Blues”, perhaps the most emotional and life-affirming track that Fleet Foxes have created. From the riveting passion of the opening, to the soaring “If I had an orchard…” finale, the performance was nothing short of awe-inspiring, providing the perfect conclusion for a phenomenal evening.
Follow the jump for tons more Fleet Foxes pictures. Click here to see the full set.