With release of their supremely crafted Sun Giant EP and eponymous album, Fleet Foxes are undoubtedly one of the most highly heralded bands of 2008 and there was a palpable excitement in Vicar Street on the night of their Dublin return (as well a high percentage of beards and plaid shirts). At a recent home town show in Seattle, David Crosby, challenged frontman Robin Pecknold with taking the ‘harmony tradition into the future’. It’s with these luminous harmonies that the Fleet Foxes open the show with a mostly acappella bluegrass number ‘Sun Giant’, capturing the crowds attention. This is followed by ‘Red Squirrel’ which sees Skye Skjelset takes a bow to his guitar. And so begins an evening of music heavily rooted in aforementioned bluegrass as well as folk, country and rock.
Though lyrically vague the imagery of ‘White Winter Hymnal’ is something quite whimsical. Hushing the crowd, the Foxes take the tempo up with ‘English House’, which makes for a merry jaunt. There’s a noticeable nervousness about the band, with some slightly awkward retuning between songs. They seem impressed and maybe somewhat daunted by the scale of the place, even claiming Vicar Street to be venue of the year. However the rapport they have with each other dissolves whatever initial nervousness they had. The on stage banter is so good it could have been scripted. There’s chat of sharing backstage with Enya and wonderment of an Enya/Obama hybrid. The comedy alone was worth the ticket.
Combined with the pastoral tones of his band mates, Pecknold’s voice is wistful and lustful in the key of Midlake, unaccompanied he’s veers towards the Americana of Band of Horses or My Morning Jacket. Throughout, Skjelset’s intricate, sometimes jangly, guitar work, stitches together the layered vocals with the rolling tom drums of Josh Tillman and Christian Wargo’s driving bass. While Casey Wescott fills the spaces with mandolin, banjo and keyboard.
Floating through tales of cornucopias and golden crowns, ‘Ragged Wood’ lures us down from the mountains, while ‘Quiet Horses’ is perfect Beach Boys pop. Pecknold is abandoned to deliver a powerful acoustic solo performance of ‘Oliver James’, though shy and fidgety beginning the show, he proves he can command the stage, and the audience. The band return to close the set with the mighty ‘Mykonos’ from the Sun Giant EP.
To rapturous cheers and applause, Pecknold starts the encore with another solo performance, delivering a well-received rendition on Karen Dalton’s ‘Katie Cruel’. The band returns and these harlequins of self-described ‘baroque harmonic pop’ treat us to some mandolin and choral delights from their self-titled LP, finishing the night with the eerie and delicate ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’. Wonderous stuff.
Photo from Flickr via Redheadwalking.