Fleet Foxes at Malkin Bowl 9/13/17
Few bands today are as skilled at harmonizing as Seattle-bred indie folk group Fleet Foxes. The result in an outdoor venue like Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl: a melodic, magical experience. It is fitting that the group not be a part of the actual summer lineup at the Bowl in Vancouver, as their floaty yet complex multi-instrumental compositions pair well with a cooling September evening in the park.
Kicking off the night with “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint”, the group set the tone for a show of a lot of new mixed in with some old. The group’s first new album in six years, Crack-Up is gorgeous and complex—its tracks veering away from the catchiness of earlier albums and instead favouring tempo changes and introverted lyricism. Frankly, there is some truly stunning song writing, both lyric-wise and on the instrumental side of things. Lead vocalist and guitarist Robin Pecknold is a very honest frontman, seemingly at peace with his band’s persona and the trajectory of his art. An old soul constantly sipping tea onstage, Pecknold’s attention to the state of his voice is not withstanding—it was perfect, enchanting and eerily beautiful when harmonized with in the classic Fleet Foxes style.
Newer tracks like “Third of May / Odaigahara”, “Fool’s Errand” and “Cassius, -” prompted more than a fair share of euphoric swaying on the audience’s part. Fleet Foxes is all about ambiance, rather than stage antics or audience communication. They’re the type of band you can listen to while lying on the grass and staring up at the stars—which many people did indeed do. Multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson stood out as a key interest, expertly playing the upright bass, guitar, flute, saxophone and keyboard, among others. While long-term fans of Fleet Foxes will notice the absence of Josh Tillman—who has since gone on to spawn acid-fueled poetry as the impeccable yet slightly confrontational Father John Misty—the group is mainly pushed forward by the purity of Pecknold’s voice, and that’s more than enough. Those Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-esque harmonizing styles are still there, and despite the changes in song themes and a strongly anti-commercial tone, everything about the Fleet Foxes works.
“Mykonos” from their 2008 EP Sun Giant, stood out, unsurprisingly, as a key lovely point in the evening—it being a high-point in the band’s discography and commercial success. “White Winter Hymnal”, and “Blue Ridge Mountains” also keyed sing-a–long moments, and the audience seemed to hang on to every note. While at the beginning of the show audience reception seemed lackluster, by the middle of the set the crowd was absolutely enraptured by the high-quality instrumentalism and musical abilities of the leader in particular.
Linking nearly every song in the set together, as if to create one long continuous song, Fleet Foxes were solely focused on the music at the Malkin Bowl. Pecknold took the stage alone for the first part of the encore—giving a beautiful acoustic cover of folk legend Joan Baez’s “Silver Dagger” and Fleet Foxes fan-favourite “Oliver James”. As the audience belted out “Noooooooo loooooonger” in response to Pecknold’s singing “Oliver James, lost on the rain…”, the night seemed to come to a united front. The whole group came together one last time for their new title track “Crack-Up”, and all was well on a September night in the park.