Fleet Foxes Return for Brixton Residency (Review)

Fleet Foxes

O2 Brixton Academy
London
Review
26/17/2017

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7.5/10


Fleet Foxes performed an acoustic assault on the senses with an intense and at times self-indulgent two-hour set.


It’s hard to believe it’s been over six years since Fleet Foxes played in London since then much has changed for the Seattle folk band. Former drummer Josh Tilman has gone on to have three very successful albums under the moniker Father John Misty whilst frontman Robin Pecknold decided to enroll at Columbia University. Robin’s experience in education inevitably shaped their latest album Crack-Up, an album which Robin says is all about perceptions, how he see’s the world and how it actually is. The record itself is very deep with various layers, really growing and unraveling over various listens. It’s fair to say it’s a lot less immediately gratifying unlike their previous albums, but the main question is how well does it present itself live? let’s find out.

“It’s been too long” Pecknold said, these would be the lead singers only words for the best part of an hour as they ignored pleasantries and launched straight into opening track ‘Arroyo Seco’. Instead of capturing the audience, the opening four tracks do the opposite, merging into one and really testing the listener, despite being technically strong, the progressive experimental feel to Crack-Up’s opening tracks can be a challenging listen. The resulting sound at times feels like a sensory overload especially when so many of these songs are played very early on in the night.

I have a feeling Fleet Foxes knew they could face a rocky start hence why arguably their biggest hit ‘White Winter Hymnal’ towards the beginning of the set, it had it’s desired effect and a couple thousand phone screens are thrown into their air, you could say quite ironically that the entire crowd are brought back into the moment.

The middle portion of the evening mixed old favourites such as ‘Ragged Wood’ with new songs such as standout ‘Fools Errand’ which seemed to really connect with the crowd. What really made the show stand out and grab you was the stage design, the band had placed a surprising emphasis on colours throughout the night, various lights illuminated the screen behind the band, interestingly the colours seem to reflect the mood of each track being played, bright snowy whites during ‘Hymnal’, striking reds for when Robin shreds away during intense moments and a series of soothing blues during the more melancholic moments. 

The screen behind was also utilised to create different environments, similar to that of a play in a theatre, during Robin’s solo rendition of ‘Tiger Mountain’ it was covered in stars like the night sky and later on was used to show various lightning storms and overhead clouds, unfortunately multiple issues with the projector throughout the night saw it eventually unplugged and the screen abandoned towards the finale.

It had been an enjoyable if not unspectacular first hour to the evening but something really switched up in the second half that really took Fleet Foxes to another level in my opinion, from the opening notes of ‘Mykonos’ there seemed to be an almost notable change in energy, not just with the crowd but within the band itself, as the fan favourite drew to a close alongside triumphant cheers which echoed throughout the academy. 

From here the audience was treated to a masterful hour of professional musicianship, the majority of which coming from Morgan Henderson, who has perfected the skill of multi-instrumentalism, never have I seen one man play the bass, percussion and a flute solo all in one track before, until now of course.

Latest album Crack-Up is full of some beautiful moments, one of these is the track ’Third Of May’ which surprisingly translates even better in a live setting, the percussion is especially noticeable, this once again down to Henderson. It’s arguably the most ‘folk’ song on the new record, It would take a hard soul not to be visibly moved by the combination of Pecknold’s vocals, Henderson’s shakers alongside that progressive piano & guitar mixed melody which flows and builds throughout.

This warm feeling continued well through the rest of the set, it’s fair to say it peaked with a triumphant encore which the band presented like a ‘best of’ compilation of the night, Pecknold returned solo once more for an utterly transfixing ‘Oliver James’, it was a rare moment for him to really put his vocals at the forefront of the night, no one was left doubting his vocal ability that’s for sure. You would struggle to hear a pin drop as he managed to hit each high note, this was all done without the protection of a full band resulting in a brave but masterful performance.

A personal highlight was the appearance of ‘If You Need To, Keep Time On Me’. It’s been disappointingly absent from recent shows but it’s fair to say it was very well received when it appeared tonight. Just to my left a group of women let out a deep sigh of relief and exclaimed ‘yes’ as Pecknold strummed the opening notes, meanwhile to his right was a single member of the band played a gentle backing melody on the piano, It’s easily one of the best tracks on Crack-Up and was an intimate and key part of the night.

The evening finished with what can only be described as a foot stomping and energetic finale, the whole crowd cheered on as Fleet Foxes closed with an emphatic ‘Helplessness Blues’, a great uplifting finish from the previous solo numbers, proof that when the band are playing their classic folk-rock hits is when they are at their strongest.

At times throughout the show Fleet Foxes were near perfect, they’d find a rhythm and really shine. At other points,  Pecknold would decide to indulge himself, alienating his audience. Some outstanding solos and classic hits saved the night. an ambitious set design completely immersed the crowd but yet again technical difficulties left a sour taste, It has to be said however if you want to watch an ambitious band that’s really pushing the limits of the folk genre with some masterful musicianship then you owe it to yourself to go see this band.

Setlist:

Arroyo Seco
Cassius
Grown Ocean
Battery Kinzie
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
Your Protector
The Cascades
Mearcstapa
On Another Ocean
Fool’s Errand
He Doesn’t Know Why
Blue Ridge Mountain
Tiger Mountain (Solo)
Mykonos
Third Of May
The Shrine/An Argument
Crack-Up

Encore:

Oliver James (Solo)
If You Need To, Keep Time On Me
Drops In The River
Helplessness Blues