Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fleet Foxes – August 3 at Metropolis

"Thank you so much, it's really great to be here."

Like "Hello, [X city]! Everybody havin' a good time!?" before it, this cordial reciprocation of a crowd's cheers has become something of a concert requisite, often delivered with as much veritas as the initial too-cool audience response. Not so for the Fleet Foxes epic return to Montreal last Monday night, however. Before the band played a single note, the energy in oft-anonymous Metropolis was electric, as preemptive howls and applause seemed to startle the mug-sipping, toque-wearing (and of course, plaid-clad) lead Fleet, Robin Pecknold.

Having spent countless hours with their Sun Giant EP and self-titled debut LP over the past year, I had high expectations for the Seattle quintet's beautifully orchestrated folk-pop. And when the sound arrived, it came bigger and bolder than I ever expected – four voices hymning about leading life through the seasons, slower and more poised than the original start of their extended player. Kudos to Metropolis's top-notch sound for cranking both the bass and the intimacy knob, as every breath and beat on the Pecknold's guitar neck during the a cappella moments made the experience about more than just harmony. The red lights were also nice touch, evoking the ghost of La Sala Rossa – where one might assume most successful indie acts to play on their second tour through the city.

But the thing is – get ready for some ripe old cheddar – Fleet Foxes are not like most bands. Last summer, they played Le Divan Orange, with a capacity of about 100, if not 75. Without releasing any new material, they bypassed the middle two stages of the city's usual 4-Step Venue Program (as described by Leslie Feist at her Metropolis show supporting Let It Die a few years ago). Not only did they play the big venue, the filled it with the most enthusiastic audience in recent memory. Throughout the show, the acquiescent band-crowd vibes only intensified, with every thank-you or drink offering (and, at one point, interception) making the room feel a bit closer to "that coffee shop" the Foxes played last year.

And their new tunes strongly suggested it won't be the only time Montrealers wield such positive reinforcement. The first one began with an alluring harmony followed by sections of galloping folk and a clever outro, rung out with the confidence of a band discovering its sound the second time around. The only sign of road wear-and-tear came during the verses of "Ragged Wood"– after the even-higher-than-the-album intro "woh-oohs" – when Pecknold pulled back the mic slightly, knowing the highest pitches were just out of reach. With the only flub behind him, however, he gave a staggering "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and morphed into White Antelope for a sublime "False Knight on the Road." With the reformed full band playing the end of the pre-encore set, J Tillman broke his behind-the-kit presence by singing the lead "Wherever you go today"'s at the end of "Mykonos." (Also of note: the only non-vox Fox, Skyler Skjelset, with whom Pecknold has been playing the longest, added to his beardless and care-free image by skanking off stage.)

Then, after perhaps the loudest ground-shaking encore plea imaginable, the crowd provided the rhythm by pounding on the 2's and 4's during "Oliver James," making the guitarless parts all the more powerful. Fitting with the group aesthetic, Pecknold brought on his favourite band (and show opener) Dungen to shake stuff during closer "Blue Ridge Mountains." Before the tune, however, Pecknold let out a euphoric "I couldn't be happier in the world right now!" – doing all he could to reverse the usual blahness exuded by aforementioned crowd appreciation – eliciting big, unadulterated smiles all 'round. Like their lyrics' landscape poetics, live Fleet Foxes served to accentuate the music's hills and valleys, with the real end of the show coming from the inter-band bear hugs to the side of the stage. Let's hope they stay on the happy side.

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