Fleet Foxes (O2 Academy, Leeds, 1 December 2011)

Fleet Foxes

This was not a bad gig but it certainly wasn’t the best I’ve been to this year. In fact, it was probably the least good gig I’ve been to this year, and probably the most disappointing since a pretty drab Fall affair at the same venue last winter.

The support act, Vetiver, were solid enough, rattling through a variety of folk-pop-bluesey stuff – essentially melodic and pleasant pub rock but nothing wrong with that and it was delivered more than competently. At the end of their set, I was nicely prepared for the main act to come on and blow them away; this is what normally happens. I am pleasantly surprised by the support act and wonder if the main act will live up to their main billing. They invariably do and Fleet Foxes, being noted for musical craft, ought to be able to jump up a grade and make the evening really special. They didn’t.

Their musical craft was certainly up to the job. I’d wondered if their vocal harmonies, particularly, would suffer in a live environment and they didn’t at all. They can definitely perform the music but that was part of the problem. On CD, everything sounds pleasant. There’s Mykanos of course, and White Winter Hymnal, and… er Mykanos… and a lot of stuff that sort of blends into one another and a couple more that I recognise but don’t recall the title of. Sometimes, when this has happened with an album, a live performance is what brings these songs alive but Fleet Foxes didn’t manage this. At first, it seemed that they were going to, as they opened with a couple of thumping tracks that gave a kind of pagan ritual feeling to the songs but then they got bogged down with trying to recreate their sounds so perfectly that between every song, just about every member of the band (bar the drummer, and I swear he changed a cymbal at least once!) was changing an instrument and tuning it before the next song could begin. Even their USP, the great vocal harmonies, started to gall after a while with each of the songs being lost in “woah-woah-woah”-ness and one, that seemed to go on for hours like a prog-rock nightmare with a honking sax solo, was a total mess.

This constant dithering completely killed the mood and encouraged the drunks in the crowd to practice their hooting sound effects – not heckling but not in keeping with the mood of the music. The backdrop didn’t help either. There was a constant projection, ok when showing mountainscapes, starfields or swirling clouds but absurdly annoying when repeating patterns of geometric shapes filled and emptied the screen over and over and over… like the opening credits of a ’70s or ’80s children’s teatime sci-fi. It had the same hypnotically attractive but infuriating pull that a tv in a pub has when it screens rolling sport or news just on the edge of your vision. It distracts you and annoys you but you just can’t stop looking.

After the break, lead singer Robin Pecknold came out and did a couple of solo songs and this reminded me of just how good their songs can be, when not over-elaborated. Then the rest of the band came on and they went back into the bland.

I wondered whether it was just me; was I in a bad mood or otherwise just not in the right frame of mind to appreciate them? Maybe they just weren’t to my taste. As I left, among a few “amazing!” -s, I heard many more “fucking boring” and, outside, one “well musically they were great but they need to learn stagecraft”, to which I couldn’t help but reply “too fucking right!”.

It seems strange after all this to say that I still like them but I do. I just don’t think I’d go to see them live again.

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