Fleet Foxes at The Louisville Palace, Louisville, KY, October 5th, 2011
The Louisville Palace is covered with ornate sculpture, and when you look up at the ceiling, you are immersed in a replica of the night sky, glowing stars shining down on the crowd. Yet when Fleet Foxes took the stage, their three- and four-part harmonies danced through their performance like rays of sunshine. Each note was incredibly tailored to perfection, yet effortlessly blended. There were moments that night where nothing—nothing—could pull you down.
As Robin Pecknold reminded us of strawberries in summertime in the echoed chorus of “White Winter Hymnal,” the gentle melodic guitars and cymbal-heavy percussion set the scene for a night of simple joys. Songs like “Battery Kinzie” and “Lorelai” were heavy on the guitar, at times covering up Pecknold’s liquid-clear crooning. But the blend of each of the six members’ instruments was most often on point, displaying a seamless sense of solidarity amongst the band.
Songs from the their second full-length album, Helplessness Blues, gave Fleet Foxes a chance to show off more of their musical prowess. “Sim Sala Bim” climaxed with an incredibly vivacious guitar hootenanny. But the crowd still went wild for the breezy folk tunes off the band’s self-titled debut. “Ragged Wood” incited howling from members of the audience in an effort to join the band in harmony, while the anthemic “Your Protector” stood its ground against the newer, more complex songs like “The Shrine/An Argument.”
When Pecknold came onstage to begin the encore alone, he stressed that he was dedicating “I Let You,” a new song, to the passing that day of legendary folk musician Bert Jansch.
“If you haven’t heard of Bert Jansch, don’t worry,” Pecknold explained, “Go to iTunes. Buy everything he’s ever done.”
The rest of the band joined Pecknold for the final three songs of the encore, “Sun It Rises,” crowd favorite “Blue Ridge Mountains,” and “Helplessness Blues.” All three songs served as a good representation of what made that night’s performance so unforgettable. Each sounded uniquely beautiful, and exuded power. This power, an overwhelming force, was not achieved through volume or effects, but a carefully-arranged layering of sounds, a wholly creative web of interwoven guitar, keyboard, rhythm and harmony.
Van Dyke Parks opened the show in his third performance alongside Fleet Foxes. Like Jansch, Pecknold couldn’t stop fawning over the vast influence Parks has had on the band. If you didn’t know about the connection between the two very disparate musical acts, you may not have ever suspected that Parks played such a strong role in shaping Fleet Foxes’ sound. His twinkling piano and rambling lyrics took us back to a different era in music. When he wasn’t singing about his favorite president (FDR), his chorus-less showtunes dealt with treacherous weather in Los Angeles.
Parks’ work as a producer and arranger has spanned decades, from his time working with the Beach Boys to Joanna Newsom. His blunt performance was stark and bold next to that of the Fleet Foxes, who keep their stage banter to a minimum.
Walking out of the Palace, into another blue, starry sky, it was almost a disappointment to step out of the breezy, artificial musical paradise, and back into the real world. But the next morning, when the sun shined through the clouds, the airy melodies playing back in my head were still as crisp as the autumn day.
1. Plains/Bitter Dancer
3. English House
4. Battery Kinzie
5. Bedouin Dress
6. Sim Sala Bim
7. Your Protector
8. White Winter Hymnal
9. Ragged Wood
11. He Doesn’t Know Why
13. The Shrine/An Argument
14. Blue Spotted Tail
15. Grown Ocean
16. I Let You
17. Sun It Rises
18. Blue Ridge Mountains
19. Helplessness Blues