Saturday 14 June 2008

Fleet Foxes @ ULU

Photo: Michael Maly

It starts in the dark.

Beach House shuffle onto the stage and start playing. Listlessly. They don’t seem particularly happy with the crowd or themselves. May be they are pining for their native Baltimore. Despite the stage being virtually unlit, they want the lights down even further.

Victoria Legrand sits at a keyboard and declaims croakily, while a white-suited Alex Scally picks at a guitar. The songs all plod by at a steady but interminable ten miles an hour and I calculate distances to the bar through the heaving throng.

It’s too far and too busy, so I grit my teeth and wait for Beach House to gradually run down…slowly…to…a … …stop.

Although the lights are barely brighter when Fleet Foxes come on stage, the mood changes instantly. It is as though the sun has come out. This young and predominantly very hairy band gathers closely around a seated Robin Pecknold and prepares to party like it’s 1970.

Right from the start, these guys hold the audience at rapt attention. This is secular sacred music, beautiful harmonies in praise of nature rather than a supreme being.

Initially, the only percussion is Pecknold banging his microphone stand with his palm, safe in the knowledge that this and THAT VOICE will be enough to compel everyone in this hall. In later moments, the band will rock out surprisingly forcefully, in jaunty hoedowns that even incorporate a bit of that old prog rock stand-by, the violin bow sawed across guitar strings.

What is also heart-warming is the jaunty good humour of the band, with plenty of banter between themselves and the audience (including a running gag about really being U2).

But it is all about those voices and THAT VOICE. Pecknold has a set of pipes that ring clear as an bubbling mountain crick, as pure as the untrammelled snow in a hidden Appalachian glade. The other band members harmonise like Beach Boys (only those with beards, mind – the hairless guitarist stands mute). Listening to these guys sing is awesome, in the literal sense that it fills you with the kind of awe that takes all sense of self away.

“White Winter Hymnal” is a celebration of innocent play, with kids with “scarves of red around their throats to stop their little heads from falling in the snow” as the song has it. You don’t just hear this song. In your mind’s eye, you see the events unfold.

Occasionally the rest of the band leaves the stage and Robin Pecknold just sings unaccompanied. The most astonishing song of all is the tale of the drowned ‘Oliver James’ whose pale body is fished from the river and “washed in the rain no longer”. I kind of stop breathing during this.

It’s a short set (if there is a fault with Fleet Foxes it is that their songs often sound like scraps of something bigger), and once the crowd snaps out of their reverie, they cheer the band to the echo. A colleague exclaims that tonight’s performance is “mythic” and will live long in the memory. It certainly won’t be quickly forgotten.

It ends in the light.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mythic indeed. This tour will be talked about for years to come. Seeing Fleet Foxes now is so moving for those of a certain age because it is like time travel. The songs, the hair and the beards transport one back to 1970 and bands such as CSN and The Band and because this group are so young and fresh (Pecknold is astonished by the crowd's reaction and says that he isn't used to this because he spends most of his time in his parents' basement writing songs) they allow you to forget how the American music dream of those days crashed and burned in drugs and bad behaviour and makes you believe anew that it will all be all right this time. It's a hell of an achievement to blow away 35 years of cynicism. See them now before the drummer turns into Mike Love.