Show Review: Fleet Foxes @ ACL Live at the Moody Theater

Wednesday and Thursday nights, The Moody Theater played host to one of the biggest acts in the indie world, Fleet Foxes. The band was coming in hot after the release of their triumphant third studio full-length,Crack-Up,and droves of excited fans poured into the venue to catch a performance for the first time in a long time. What they got was musicianship at its finest– two nights of precise and profound music that fed the excitement of the crowd as the band seamlessly wove together new and old tracks from their catalogue of folk rock.

Read on for my thoughts on the show, as well as some pics from the ever-awesome B. Gray.

First things first, some thoughts on the opener, Bedouine. A moniker for Azniv Korkejian, the band is a four piece in the live setting, touring her self-titled debut. While it always hard to play opener in the shadow of giants, I have to tip my hat to Korkejian and crew. They played their set of quiet folk with humble confidence, rolling through each track methodically but with feeling, the complex lyrics and serene vocals taking hold of the mix and transfixing the crowd for the early tracks. Though sonically beautiful, Bedouine proved a little one-dimensional. After three songs or so, they started to lose the attention of the audience, who began to chat and move around.

And now on to the Foxes.

The last time I saw Fleet Foxes play a show was six years ago at a blisteringly hot ACL festival. The band had released Helplessness Blues to great praise and had landed themselves playing right before main headliner, Arcade Fire. While that show has now faded in my memory, from what I can remember, I enjoyed myself, but was a bit disappointed at how far away the band seemed. Not only in physical distance, (stages are big and removed at fests) but also in the way each member of the band seemed to be in their own little universe away from the other members. This version of the young band seemed a little too big for their britches in the live setting– not quite yet gelling completely with each other.

Fast forward six years and another album later and the story is quite different. Fleet Foxes have blossomed from quaint indie-folk darlings to sleek and intense masterclass artists. While there was never any doubt of the talent that these gentleman possessed, time and experience has given their music a new dimension of gravity. Their first two albums proved they could spin beautiful and emotive tracks;Crack-Upshowed they could move beyond beauty and engage in intimate, subtle evocative finesse.

This shift in maturity of the recorded music set the tone for these performances. Robin Pecknold, clean-shaven and crispy dressed, is now a true front-man. He delivers his songs through tightly closed eyes, his face screwed up in concentration as he carefully articulates every word and gorgeous note. The band opened with the first three tracks off their latest album before jumping into bouncy “Grown Ocean,” the closer fromHelplessness Blues.Shifting between quiet and loud moments held everyone at the beck and call of Pecknold and company, through countless, though extremely smooth, guitar changes.

As the night progressed and cheers began to get louder and louder after each song, you could see Pecknold begin to feed off the energy. Through the duration of each track he remained ever solemn and focused, the closed eyes and rigid posture of a man pouring everything into his craft. But in the fleeting moments of the end of each tune, right before the rosy lights cut to black and cheers would begin, you could catch a dopey, smitten grin spread across his face. He engaged the crowd between songs, responding to silly yells from the audience inquiring about what kind of tea he was drinking as well as cheers of praise. He would turn and play to his band as well, and they felt like a united front. Confident, sleek, yet still a little confounded by praise, he waged a full fledged campaign of gorgeous songs two nights in a row.

If this all seems a little moony eyed and honeyed, you must forgive me, but if you were there, it’s possible you’ll understand. Fleet Foxes have grown up, but are far from jaded or trite. Rather, they are lithe and powerful, tearing audiences away from the monotony of the endless bad news on their cell phones and allowing them to pour into something other than the bleakness of the current state of the world. If you have the chance, go see them– they’ll remind you why music is an essential part of the human existence.

Exceptional highlight tracks: “On Another Ocean,” “The Shrine/An Argument,” “Crack-Up,” “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.”

 

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