Fleet Foxes – Asheville, NC – Oct. 4, 2011
Last time I caught the Fleet Foxes, they were little more than a sweet secret possessed by those with devout adoration for the Seattle acoustic music scene. Last night, at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville, NC – more than 2,000 miles from home and surrounded by plenty of kids from UNCA, Warren Wilson, App State, and beyond – Fleet Foxes seem to have become something of a hero band.
Indeed, this small town has been buzzing for weeks – particularly via Twitterverse – about the impending arrival of the Northwest’s own favorite bearded boy band. But, if there’s anywhere in the country as poised as the Northwest to adore the band’s richly imaginative arrangements, poetic lyricism, and woodchuck charm, it’s here in Asheville. Frontman Robin Pecknold looks like he wandered right out of the Smokies and met the other guys one night at the Thirsty Monk. Indeed, if the fog blanketing the Blue Ridge Parkway could handle a mandolin, it might create something like “Sim Sala Bim” (an easy crowd-pleaser the band saved for about halfway into their main set this night).
Those kids were on their feet by the third song in, as Robin Pecknold and his band of merry men unleashed a trippy set thick on dreamy harmonies and warm guitars. I predicted the crowd would go bonkers when they played “Blue Ridge Mountains,” given the iconic hills’ proximity to this small town, and they did. Good thing for the Foxes that they saved it til the third song of the encore.
Much of the rest of the set was focused hard on their 2011 release, Helplessness Blues (which dropped on SubPop back in May), with a quick glance here and their at their 2008 self-titled debut. “White Winter Hymnal” was the other favorite from that release. But it was a brand new song Pecknold performed solo at the top of the encore which most wrested me from my happy haze. (The haze, of course, was attributed to the lightshow and animated images running at a stoner’s pace on a giant screen behind the band the whole time. Distracting for those of us who lay off the stuff, but transfixing nonetheless.) The new tune was solo, acoustic, nearly silent, and brief. But its story was beautifully captured in a succinct and indirectly poetic way which relied less on the natural imagery Pecknold has become so known for, and more on the sorts of random associations one makes in their mind when facing unexpected heartache.
Granted, the sound guy(s) could have upped the ante with this show if they’d ever balanced Pecknold’s vocals further to the fore of every other sound happening onstage. But, the band can’t be blamed for that. It’s energizing to see such young guys so near to approaching their full stride. Catch the Fleet Foxes on tour this fall if you get a chance. Try not to let the animated screen pull you too far from the music, though. (That, or let it take you somewhere else entirely, I guess.)