Fleet Foxes


Listen to records by Fleet Foxes and I’m transported to a captivating realm of spectacular hills, meandering valleys, orchards, oceans and quivering forests. The characters who roam these settings might cross paths with Bob Dylan’s sanctuary-seeking wanderer in ‘Shelter from the Storm’ or The Band’s nomad heading back north in ‘Acadian Driftwood’. It’s timeless music from where the air is fresh and clean.

“It’s been too long,” remarks chief singer and songwriter Robin Pecknold as he and his six-piece band take their positions on stage. Since Fleet Foxes last played a show in Manchester more than six years have passed, and in this period Pecknold took some time away from music, went back to school for a few years and spent his free hours walking up mountains and learning to surf.

Reinvigorated after the break, the band released the ambitious and sprawling Crack-Up album in June, and tonight the band gets stuck right into the new record’s first three songs. With lead vocalist Pecknold on acoustic guitar, the other instrumentation on stage includes bass, drums, percussion, keys, guitar with bow, tuba, saxophone and cello. There are often three- or four-part vocal harmonies. But something’s not quite right; there’s a lack of clarity in the sound and some odd vibrations in the room.

After the band quietens to leave just voices at the closing of fourth song ‘Grown Ocean’, feedback comes from various members of the audience asking for the sound to be turned up. Another shout for the bass to be more prominent induces a jig from bassist Christian Wargo, but Pecknold, either in disagreement or believing, probably correctly, that there’s little that can be done now about any sound issues, smiles as he asks: “Shall we all play bass guitars?”

There are moments of real beauty, particularly when Pecknold’s voice and guitar are unaccompanied by the rest of the band, such as on the first part of ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ or the entirety of ‘Oliver James’. What’s for sure is that I’d queue for tickets to see Pecknold play solo in a small venue should he ever decide to do such a tour.

My first exposure to the music of Fleet Foxes was the snow-covered imagery of ‘White Winter Hymnal’, performed tonight, and its melody soundtracks in my head as I make my way towards one of the venue’s exits. I’m reminded of going to see Almost Famous at the cinema and heading out into the night air afterwards to find that several inches of snow had magically appeared on the ground. Tonight, of course, isn’t nearly cold enough for anything so dramatic to have occurred during the gig, and not on an evening when it felt like the magic was there somewhere but frustratingly out of reach of the senses, with the enchanted world of the true Fleet Foxes only able to reveal itself in fleeting moments.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.