Six years ago Fleet Foxes dazzled fans at Auckland’s Town Hall. Fast forward to the Powerstation last night and the lustre has dimmed considerably.
As the six musicians took their places on stage a pre-recorded horn piece played a mournful intro. It sounded like we were taking part in a funeral.
Perhaps we were.
Back in 2008 Fleet Foxes were critical darlings, leading the charge of what seemed like a new indie folk movement that included acts such as Iron & Wine, Midlake and Bon Iver.
Robin Pecknold and his crew released two albums and then took a hiatus. They returned, sans drummer J Tillman, who reinvented himself as Father John Misty, this past year with Crack-Up, a dense, ornate and, yes, pretentious group of songs that found Pecknold referencing everything from obscure Bewolf characters to little-known landmarks of Washington State.
The result was beautifully-played and sung music with virtually no soul, nothing that the listener could emotionally connect with…at least not this one.
When the bandmembers began playing, it was a trio of tunes from Crack-Up. And while the music sounded slightly more endearing live, it didn’t take long for the boredom to set in.
I assume Pecknold sympathizes with his audience. Every time he and the band launched into something from the first two albums, the energy level rose and one got the feeling that people might actually be enjoying themselves.
Although you couldn’t tell by looking at the musicians’ faces…they stood stoically and stone faced while they generated their very serious music.
The culmination of all that portent came with the final three numbers in the regular set…Third Of May/Odaigahara (yes, the titles are as pretentious as the music), The Shrine/An Argument (an 8-minute epic from Helplessness Blues that served as a warning for what was to come) and the title track to Crack-Up.
Of course there was an encore…although I did witness several streams of folks hi-tailing it for the doors when Third Of May reared its ugly head.
Fortunately the three songs played upon the band’s return were all earlier tunes. And yes, the mood did brighten for a while, but to me, these three songs sounded more like a requiem for past glories rather than a celebration.
One faint beam of light…I found myself most drawn into the music during the two songs that Pecknold performed solo. Without the band creating a wall of (somewhat muddy) sound for Robin to hide behind, songs such as Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Oliver James shot directly to the heart.
Unfortunately, the rest of the time Fleet Foxes’ aim wasn’t quite as true.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Flynn:
Fleet Foxes set list:
- Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar
- Grown Ocean
- White Winter Hymnal
- Ragged Wood
- Your Protector
- The Cascades
- On Another Ocean (January/June)
- Fool’s Errand
- He Doesn’t Know Why
- Blue Ridge Mountains
- Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
- Battery Kinzie
- Third Of May/Odaigahara
- The Shrine/An Argument
- Oliver James
- Drops In The River
- Helplessness Blues