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Live review: Fleet Foxes at the Hollywood Palladium

Fleet foxes
As far as pop music insurrections go, the recent success of such dewy folk acts as England's Mumford & Sons, L.A.'s Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and the sylvan Seattle combo Fleet Foxes, which performed to a sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, is a pretty mild-mannered one. But the huge sales figures and over-capacity theaters each have earned in the last two years suggest an interesting question -- what's making hundreds of thousands of fans turn to some of the most traditional and comforting sounds in popular music in the last 40 years?

The band's 2008 debut of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-style harmonies and acoustic madrigals sold around 400,000 copies in America. Its album "Helplessness Blues" came out May 2. Given that the beard-nuzzling on Foxes' albums is practically audible, frontman Robin Pecknold is an unlikely star. His lyrics make those by the Decemberists' Colin Meloy seem dangerous -- collies are petted, woodland cabins are built by loving grandfathers, Pecknold laments, "Oh, man, what I used to be" at 25.

But Fleet Foxes' technical skill leavened the birding-club goofiness on Saturday night. Drummer Josh Tillman lent unexpected percussive heft, and new bassist Morgan Henderson (formerly of the spazzy art-punks Blood Brothers) has a wide quiver of strings and woodwinds to color the margins. The band's immaculate three- and four-part harmonies seep into every corner of the music.

At the Palladium, those pristine voices started the show as a force of nature on par with any mountain range in Fleet Foxes' lyrical world. But nearly two hours later, one left the set with a sense that they might be a lovely window dressing to distract from some middlebrow songwriting.

"The Shrine/An Argument" is one of the centerpieces of "Helplessness Blues," and it has a touch of the sparking drone of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" to it. But even the most tender artisinal furniture carver would be hard pressed to get through a chorus like "Apples in the summer are golden sweet/ every day a passing complete" without wanting to pound some bourbon and see what your crazy ex-girlfriend with the neck tattoo is up to at 3 a.m.

At the best moments, the songs were saved by savvy arrangements -- "Grown Ocean" deftly spun strings, and when Henderson peeled off a Coltrane-worthy sax-noise solo, the set glimpsed at Fleet Foxes' possibilities if they ditched the sweaters occasionally.

-- August Brown

Photo: Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold, right, sings lead vocals and plays guitar and Christian Wargo plays bass guitar and sings vocals. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (8)

Brilliant performance, the oval echoes of the Palladium complimented Fleet Foxes delivery perfectly.

Oh man...such a mistake to lump Fleet Foxes in with those other bands. I'm an atheist and this show was something like a religious experience for me. If you're unable to see the depth of Pecknold's lyrical/songwriting ability, I promise you have not paid close enough attention. Read the lyrics of a song like Blue Spotted Tail or Helplessness Blues and see then if you still think he doesn't have much to say at 25.

Wonderful, sunny writing by Mr. Brown. Brilliantly done.

August,

I read a lot of concert reviews and attend a handful of concerts each month. This one of the first reviews where I'm perplexed as to the point of it all? It's a hodgepodge of opinions and "bands you think they emulate" but nothing of note about the actual concert. Did you like the show? You didn't? It was ok? It had moments? It was just another concert review you had to write since you were paid to do so?

-Aaron

Wow, August Brown. You're quite the hipster....and an idiot.

You asked: what's making hundreds of thousands of fans turn to some of the most traditional and comforting sounds in popular music in the last 40 years?

You answered: But even the most tender artisinal furniture carver would be hard pressed to get through [a deceptively, disarmingly simple] chorus like "Apples in the summer are golden sweet/ every day a passing complete" without wanting to pound some bourbon and see what your crazy ex-girlfriend with the neck tattoo is up to at 3 a.m.

I saw them at the Fox in Oakland. The power of their sound had the audience back on their heels the entire time. It was enough to make the hardest hipsters rethink the possible. As for my experience, that of a long ago tenderized hipster, this show was not the most even or consistent show I'd ever seen, yet it was the most stirring and beautiful. I plan on catching them again when NPR streams their show tomorrow night.

I've been to many great concerts and seen some very well-respected artists, but I have never been so moved and pleasured by a live band as Fleet Foxes did. The acoustics of the palladium complimented their already perfect vocals and harmonies. I was not expecting Robin's voice to sound even better than it does on his albums, but it did and it lasted beautifully throughout the entire concert. I already was obsessed with them before seeing them live, but now I have a whole new respect for their cohesive as well as individual talent.

-=-=-=
If Dave Grohl were a real man he'd sing like Robin Pecknold.
-=-=-=-=-=


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