Fleet Foxes, a decade apart
“Could we get the lights real low? That’d be cool. It’s hot as Hades in here.” That’s what Robin Pecknold, frontman for the Fleet Foxes, says to the crew at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco in February 2008 before the Seattle band plays its “first time out of town” set. Ten years later on April 11, 2018, the Fleet Foxes have their first show in Sacramento.
For years, this seemed an impossibility, since the group disintegrated in 2012 after the success and tour of their second LP, Helplessness Blues. The Fleet reconciled in 2016 and released Crack-Up last June to much acclaim, and has been touring the nooks and crannies of the world for the better part of the past year: Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Croatia—and a sold-out show in Sacramento at the Crest Theatre.
The band walked onto the stage to a recorded horn preamble, picked up their instruments and burst into “Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar.” The melodic swirling and hard edges of the song were complemented by the shifting geometric shapes projected on the screen behind them, which would later be glowing, seeping watercolor reds, blues and oranges and twinkling starlight to accompany each song of their two-hour set. With hundreds of shows under their belts, the band was seasoned and confident, but back in 2008 in that small SF venue, Pecknold was visibly nervous. Firmly seated on a stool for their half-hour set, he frequently pulled his shoulder-length brown hair closer to his face in between songs, like an insecure tick. At the Crest, he also had a stool, but only beverages sat on it, and his hair was shorn; nothing to hide behind, but also no reason to hide.
They played a generous sampling of their tunes from their Sun Giant EP and first album, including “Drops in River.” In 2008, being in the front row for that song felt like being blown away like the dude in the ’80s Maxell cassette ad, even though Pecknold’s voice cracked. It actually cracked numerous times that night. Despite that, it was obvious this Pacific Northwest fivesome was powerful and special, with its multipart harmonies and songs about forests and tables built by Grandpa. As a six-piece now, their Crack-Up songs are more complex and introspective.
Back in 2008, Pecknold was visibly and earnestly flabbergasted mid-song when someone “wooed!” and sang along to “White Winter Hymnal,” because they were so fresh out of the gate. But now, it was the Crest crowd who was flabbergasted and laughing when an audience member shouted the cliché concert request, “Freebird!” and Pecknold obliged with a few bars. And when he said goodbye to the audience, roaring with applause at the end of the show, the 30-something frontman doesn’t press his hair close to his neck and jerkily nod in thanks like a Muppet anymore; he holds his hand to his chest in that same earnestness, but, yeah, he still kinda nods like a Muppet.
“Crazy, what a weird world this is,” he said 10 years ago—and it’s still crazy; there’s just more Fleet Foxes music.