concluded their two-night stand at the crazily opulent United Palace Theater with a harmony-drenched, strummy set, featuring the bulk of their new album, Helplessness Blues
, but including plenty of favorites from their previous work.
Opening with the new-agey instrumental, "The Cascades," the band then launched into "Grown Ocean" a standout from the new record. Unfortunately, deafening sound problems ruined the moment. It took the band and crowd until mid-set to recover. The Fleets found their footing with "White Winter Hymnal" and "Ragged Wood" from their eponymous debut. They locked in for good with a pair from Helplessness
, the pop confection, "Lorelai," and the anthemic album opener "Montezuma," which drew the loudest cheers of the night for its soul-searching lines, "Now I am older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me?"
Lead singer and chief songwriter, Robin Pecknold, displayed an aw-shucks, country-boy charm, muttering to himself and thanking the crowd at every turn. Drummer J. Tillman provided a comical/cynical counter-balance, cracking jokes about doomsday. "I'm pretty sure we're good," he deadpanned, "because Jesus flaked out last time."
Tillman's unorthodox, orchestral drumming style (he prefers mallets to sticks and plays hi-hat with his foot) stands out, but sometimes reins the band in when they start to soar. The three and four part harmonies Fleet Foxes are best known for are gorgeous, but can also wash out everything in their path. Live at least, the group has not yet reconciled some of the fundamental aspects of their recorded sound with the demands of their growing crowds.
While many call attention to influences like "Renaissance polyphony" or "Appalachian drones," Fleet Foxes are loved by their audience like a rock band. But this is not their Arcade Fire moment. They aren't ready for the arena yet. They might never cop to wanting it, but there's a hint of ambition behind Pecknold's "we just play folk music" disclaimers. In the meantime, these guys sure can sing.