A warm summer night in Wolverhampton. A sell out gig for one of the most exciting bands in the world at the moment and a night that I will remember for the rest of my days, for more reasons than one.
I received the word I’d be reviewing the gig at around 5pm, hopped in the car and set off for Wolverhampton. I had high hopes for the gig after listening to the Fleet Foxes debut album quite a lot over the last few months. I was first introduced to the album by a friend at new year and its been growing on me more and more ever since. I was wondering how the sound would transfer from the record to a live performance and I wasn’t disappointed. The Fleet Foxes are a 5 piece band from Seattle, signed to the Sub Pop label in the US, who play melodic, indie folk music with harmonies that Brian Wilson could only dream of. That’s not to say that their music is subdued by any means. Quite the opposite, there’s a raw soulful feel to the vocals and lyrics and a definite influence in classic rock/pop. Their debut album has received critical acclaim since its release in June last year. Being described as an instant American classic on your first release must put a lot of pressure on a young band in the music business but the maturity of the Fleet Foxes music and song writing really is interesting.
The support came from The Clientele, a British band obviously regarded very highly by Fleet Foxes who described them as ’Britain’s best band’. I’d tend not to agree with that statement, not that they weren’t good but there was little if no variation in their set. They’ve apparently had a fair amount of success touring the US, so they must be doing pretty well over there. I can imagine listening to one of their records late at night before going to sleep but there wasn’t anything beyond that for me I’m afraid.
I’d never been to a gig at the Civic Hall before but had heard good things about it so I was looking forward to seeing a performance there. On approach to the venue I noticed that they must have a fan base of men sporting full beards and checked shirts, judging by the group crossing the road in front of me. I thought this group looked familiar but it only clicked when they took to the stage later on in the evening! The venue is a decent size with plenty of good viewing areas, including the balconies above, but also feels intimate at the same time. It’s the type of venue that is really good to see bands and the sound quality was spot on. Blur had played the previous night so it obviously has a good reputation with the bigger more established bands, and also with bands warming up for Glastonbury so it seems.
The atmosphere in the audience was full of anticipation when the band took the stage around 9:30pm. After a minute or two of careful tuning, the bands front man, Robin Pecknold, greeted the crowd with, ‘Hello, we’re Blur it’s good to be back’ before opening the set with ‘Sun It Rises’. The band seemed really up for the gig and wanted to give the audience a good show. It was refreshing to see a band smiling so much throughout the performance. The singles that people will have heard on the radio such as ‘Mykonos’, ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’, ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Your Protector’ were all greatly received. People seemed genuinely grateful to be hearing these songs live, possibly for the first time and the band didn’t let anyone down. My initial thought of the sound I was hearing was that it was like a choir. I don’t think I’ve ever heard harmonies as perfect as these. Four of the five members contributed to the harmonies and backing vocals but without doubt the outstanding performer vocally is the front man. He has such a powerful voice for just one man. On the few songs performed solo during the set, it was amazing to see how he almost sounded like two people especially on songs such as ‘Oliver James’. The set comprised of most of the songs from their debut self titled album and previous EP from early 2008, Sun Giant. There were even a couple of new songs thrown in for good measure, which the crowd responded well to.
The band seemed so laid back in their playing which really contradicts how loud and big their music sounds. I enjoyed the intro to ‘White Winter Hymnal’ which saw Robin Pecknold start the vocals which the other members gradually joining the song. There was also good interaction between band and audience and plenty of joking around, even to the point of encouraging shouts of ‘Stephen’ from the crowd.
Towards the end the gig certain sections of the audience became more vocal with shouting and whatnot. This did become somewhat annoying. Maybe it was the stifling heat of the venue, maybe it was the excitement, who knows. Anyway, after the band came back for their encore, one member of the audience from the upper balcony shouted out that Michael Jackson had died. This totally changed the atmosphere of the gig for the last song, ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’. It must be said that the band reacted really well to this statement, which at the time myself & my girlfriend thought, was a horrible joke. The band commented ‘if that’s true, that’s really really sad’. I mean, why would someone shout out something like that at the end of an excellent gig? Front man Robin, wanted clarification about the news but nothing seemed to make sense at the time. The band managed to regain their composure and finished the set with an excellent rendition of ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’.
To sum up, it was an honour to be at the gig tonight and catch the Fleet Foxes in this moment in time. Their sound is soulful and optimistic and you got the impression that they’re building more and more momentum and with the festival season coming up, they’re bound to get more exposure and a bigger fan base as a result. A truly amazing band with bagfuls of talent and great tunes and one that I will definitely be looking to catch live again in the future. The 25th June 2009 will be remembered for other reasons but I’ll never forget seeing the Fleet Foxes for the first time.
Review – Chris Thompson
Photos – Helen Williams