There was a certain amount of dÃ©jÃ vu about tonight’s Fleet Foxes gig. It was almost two years to day that I was at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton to review the Fleet Foxes for the first time. That evening was memorable for more than one reason and still ranks as one of my favourite gigs of all time.
The band from Seattle are currently touring their UK number 2, second album; Helplessness Blues. As far as I’m aware they’re not a band that get too much mainstream radio1 play (I could be wrong there) but they’ve gradually gained more and more fans through, I guess, word of mouth and people actually listening to albums! Which is a nice thought. I think more accessible bands such as Mumford & Sons have not so much profited from Fleet Foxes but definitely gained a wider appeal from a watered down version. Maybe a harsh comparison but the point I’m trying to make is that Fleet Foxes music feels more personal and honest than some other indie/folk acts.
The Civic Hall was sold out for tonight’s show and this was evident by the traffic crawling towards the venue. For anyone who’s never been to the Civic Hall before, it’s a really good place to see live music. It’s a venue with character and the sound and lighting are always good. However, some staff seemed to be on a power trip and almost prevented my friends from re-entering the venue after going outside for a smoke. A bit of politeness and some signs would be an improvement rather than asking people to ‘grovel’ to them to gain re-entry!
The support act tonight was Isle of Wight band, The Bees, who I had seen a few years ago at the Moseley Folk Festival. The Bees are a well-established band and now on their fourth album. Their sound is a blend of indie, psychedelic 60’s rock and elements of country, jazz amongst others. A broad range and by the instrument swapping on a song-by-song basis it’s clear that they’re very talented musicians. Imagine The Coral but with a couple of extra dimensions. What I caught of their set was good, mostly older songs I think. The audience was already filling up and there was a real enthusiasm for the band during their performance. I enjoyed their set and you could tell the band were really enjoying being on tour with the Fleet Foxes. There was definitely a mutual love going on. Incidentally, they’re booked for this year’s Moseley Folk Festival too so definitely worth seeing if you’re close to the B13 area.
Fleet Foxes took to the stage at their scheduled 9:15pm timeslot (I quite like the A4 printouts detailing stage times) to a very warm welcome. Right from the off, the band made an amusing reference to the previous gig in Wolverhampton in 2009 by expressing a hope that no one will die tonight . In the 2009 gig an audience member shouted out ‘Michael Jackson is dead’ a statement that neither Pecknold nor the audience quite knew how to take at the time.
The first half dozen songs were taken from their new album which the crowd were familiar with. However the real excitement came from the older songs much as Mykonos, White Winter Hymnal and Your Protector from 2008’s debut album, which to a lot of people would have been the first time they’d seem them performed live. Frontman, Robin Pecknold, does have an amazing voice which is the foundation of many of their songs. They’re also renowned for their harmonies but it’s only by seeing them perform live that you really appreciate how powerful Pecknold’s voice is and how wonderful the harmonies are. Pecknold does his best to engage with the audience throughout the gig but during some of the longer guitar changes and tuning between songs, you could tell some of the crowd getting a little restless. Some of crowd started to shout ‘play us something we know’! I mean, they’ve got two albums, what else are supposed to play? You could say that the gaps in between songs interrupt the flow of the performance but to be honest that’s only a minor gripe.
The whole point of seeing the Fleet Foxes, I believe, is to see these wonderful songs played live by a band that obviously really enjoy playing them.
Since recording Helplessness Blues, the band have become a six piece with an additional bearded member (all the Fleet Foxes, bar one sport beards — a point note by one member during a guitar tuning break when he said the audience would start to grow beards themselves during the show) giving the band an extra dimension by adding flute, double bass and saxophone amongst others. The songs from Helplessness Blues come to life when you see them live and feel much more vibrant than on record, which at times goes too close to being twee. Songs such as Sim Sala Bim and Lorelai from the new album sound particularly good live. One new tune however, The Shrine/An Argument, ambles along pleasantly enough until a god awful saxophone solo which can only be described as sounding like jazz malfunction. Both myself and my fiancÃ©e have winced at this moment when it rears its painful head. However, one of my friends at the gig actually enjoys the sax solo on artistic grounds so opinions are split on that.
There were obviously people in the audience who’d been to the previous gig in 2009 so comparisons would no doubt be made. Which gig was better? Have the Fleet Foxes got any better than two years ago? The fact is that they’re an amazing band to see live, if not only for the harmonies and lead vocals of Robin Pecknold. The band as a whole work and it’s only by seeing them live that you really appreciate what good professional musicians they are. Particular highlights were Blue Ridge Mountains and when Pecknold came back for a solo encore of Oliver James. The gig came to a close with a great version of the single, Helplessness Blues and band left the stage to a great reception. And while we’re on the subject of receptions, we’ll be looking for a band for our wedding in the near future so if anyone from the Fleet Foxes management happens to read this……we’re pretty flexible on dates but there’d be a strict no sax solo policy!
Thanks to co-reviewer, Jenny, for her comments.
Review & Photos – Steve Gerrard
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brumlive/5930949738/” title=”FF-145 by Birmingham Live!, on Flickr”><img src=”” width=”400″ height=”267″ alt=”FF-145″></a>