My brother, where do you intend to go tonight?

“Penniless and tired,
With your hair grown long
I was looking at you there,
And your face looked wrong
Memory is a fickle siren song
I didn’t understand”

I bought my tickets to see the Fleet Foxes at the Pabst Theater on the strength of these lines (music video here, lyrics here). At the time (on my birthday, at the Bon Iver show at the same venue) the only song I had heard by the Fleet Foxes was “He Doesn’t Know Why,” but I took the gamble and bought the $10 tickets to go see them in October, which seemed ever-so far away at the time.

From the Sub Pop website:

Drawing influence from the traditions of folk music, pop, choral music and gospel, sacred harp singing, West Coast music, traditional music from Ireland to Japan, film scores, and their NW peers, Fleet Foxes ranges in subject matter from the natural world and familial bonds to bygone loves and stone cold graves.

Exactly two months later, the show has been over for four days and I’m still excited about it. I joked to my roommate that for me, the latest show I’ve been to is always the greatest show I’ve ever attended. However, in this case it’s absolutely true: Fleet Foxes in concert were up there, if not at the top.

Let’s start at the beginning. I took my little brother to the concert (appropriate, in hindsight, given the amount of references to brothers in the lyrics of Fleet Foxes songs), and we ended up arriving at 7:00pm, an hour before the show was scheduled to start. We got seats in the second row, left section: not too shabby, considering that the place was absolutely sold out when we got there. Yay for presale tickets!

The opener, Frank Fairfield, seemed to only play songs that ended in “Blues”. As others have noted before me, he sounds like he came straight from the thirties via time machine, instrumentally and (more uniquely) vocally as well. He had the whiny, accented, and hard-to-understand singing style that you usually hear overlaid by crackly vinyl hiss – definitely not what I expected, given the soft choral arrangements that Fleet Foxes use. However, he was absolutely fantastic, and was sad when I read Frank’s last.fm page to discover that he hasn’t been signed or even really recorded anything substantial (further support for our time-machine hypothesis?). He seemed to be making up the set on the spot. I’d be interested in seeing Frank again sometime.

Before the show started, I bought Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album on vinyl, which turned out to be a great idea on several levels. Firstly, it came with both their self-titled album but also the Sun Giant EP. Secondly, it came with download codes for all the tracks included on the two albums, so I was able to download all the tracks as mp3s and put them on my lovely and well-fed new iPod. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the album art. I bought the record pre-show, and my brother and I spent at least half an hour identifying exactly what each person on the cover was doing. Turns out it’s a painting called “Netherlandish Proverbs” done in the 1500s by a guy called Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Pretty interesting stuff, and a great painting to boot. And its combination of obvious antiquity with controversial and downright weird subject matter parallels the way that Fleet Foxes fuse together folk and postrock influences to make their unique style of music.

The main event was mindblowing. I had loved the choral arrangements on the songs I had from the album, and was bracing myself for the tiny imperfections that you inevitably get in a live set. They never came. If anything, the choral arrangments were even more flawless in concert than they were on the record. (They’ve claimed in an interview with the BBC that they get the arrangements from “witchcraft”, but then admitted that in reality it’s just practice and hard work, which is much less exciting. Download the interviews at Aquarium Drunkard! Do it!)

I realized this within the span of the first (a capella) number. After they threw themselves into their set, it was impossible not to throw yourself after them. Between the songs that I knew I would love already (“He Doesn’t Know Why”, “White Winter Hymnal”, “Blue Ridge Mountains”) and ones I had less exposure to (“Ragged Wood”, “Oliver James”, “Drops In The River”, and the heartbreaking “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”), I basically fell in love. The music itself, vocals reverberating through amps like monks’ chants through a cathedral, has this beautiful sense of spiritual grandeur. Watching lead singer Robin Pecknold’s facial expressions throughout the set made me feel almost like a voyeur, as if by watching him sing I was somehow spying on some kind of religious experience, with Pecknold baring himself to the audience and, perhaps, to God.

Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it. OK, before I further reveal what a huge fangirl I have become: the long and short of it: great band, great set, greatly recommended. See you at their next show!

PS. Bonuses!

Backstage Sessions : Fleet Foxes – Oliver James from Hard to Find a Friend on Vimeo.

And you can stream Radio 88.9′s live recording of the show here. Enjoy!

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