Let me immediately start by saying that I am not a Fleet Foxes fan. It’s not that I don’t like them (I do), but it’s not music I often seek out when the intricate lyricism of Playboi Carti is not mood appropriate. I say all that because when I learned that I was going to cover this show, I did the one thing anyone does in my position: listen to most, if not all, of the Fleet Foxes’ catalogue. In doing so, I was left with one question that reverberated across each song: what are the Fleet Foxes? For people well-versed in the band, like my colleague Jose Lopez-Sanchez, the group is “one of the few bands that successfully manage to turn folk music into ‘Art’ without falling into the trap of self-importance.” But for people like myself, people who don’t really know where folk music becomes art, the Fleet Foxes performance at The Anthem had less to do with their music and more to do with the transcendent quality of their craft.
The last time I went to The Anthem in December 2017 was to see Lil Uzi Vert. For all the personas Lil Uzi Vert pretends his, he is 100% not a folk artist, and so as I entered The Anthem on windy rainy night, I was intrigued as to how the venue would support a much tamer, more personal act. Standing on the concert floor, with the venue’s tiers towering around me, I was struck by the celestial the lighting details; each level speckled in a subtle glow more familiar in a smaller venue. The low-hum buzz of the people around me only added to the divine aura that was slowly building around me. Once the lights dimmed, and Robin Pecknold walked calmly onto the stage flanked by keyboardist Casey Wescott and multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson service officially began.
More than most any genre, folk music is at its most effective when it bleeds emotion but never suffocates the listener. The Fleet Foxes set began in earnest, and teetered on feeling a tad rushed. Each song morphed into the next as if the crossfade setting on Pecknold’s setlist was at maximum. Initially, this composition was taxing, with Pecknold’s voice filling The Anthem with a harmonious duality of enthralling emotion elongated for no immediate clear reason. That reason became readily apparent as the band started to move towards songs like “I Am All That I Need/ Arroyo Seco/ Thumbprint Scar” and “On Another Ocean”; compositions driven by chord arrangements delivering tension that subside into calming peace. Much of the Fleet Foxes 2017 album Crack Up subscribes to a level of refinement only appreciated once the listener is all in, and the beginning of their set ensured that you were all in within the first 3-5 songs.
By the time the Fleet Foxes entered the middle of their set, the crowd, which was tepid before the performance, was well and truly entranced. In fact, the Fleet Foxes did something that I didn’t think was possible: they made The Anthem seem much smaller than it was. And for a styling of music that is most comfortable in the expansiveness of an outside venue, the manner with which the Fleet Foxes controlled the expansiveness of their music inside was the most impressive part of their show. As I stood off to the side, my gaze repeatedly shifted to an audience that would have probably felt more at home in a small tent revival than a 6,000 person venue. Each song ebbed and flowed toward a rapturous conclusion; a conclusion that laid bare the realization that the Fleet Foxes aren’t just a band; they are a feeling, a vibe, an embodiment of emotions as layered as their music. The Fleet Foxes are internally ornate in every way their former drummer Josh Tillman (Father John Misty) tries to be externally, all the while maintaining an ethereal aura that resides on a higher plain of folk music.