Few bands in the indie scene have had more buzz than Fleet Foxes, who are in the midst of a highly successful tour for their latest record Helplessness Blues. In something as ever-changing and amorphous as today's music scene, the consistent praise this band has gotten leads one to believe that maybe they are actually here to stay.
Fleet Foxes play fairly straight-forward folk inspired tunes, but they play them well and with their own style. Their sound is more reminiscent of a band such as Iron and Wine than it is Bob Dylan, but lead vocalist and songwriter Robin Pecknold's delivery gives the group their own distinguished sound. The band's three-part vocal harmonies are what listeners come to know well, and they came with strong voices to the Pageant for their first headlining gig in St. Louis.
The show kicked off with opener Alela Diane & Wild Divine. Her sound is somewhere loosely in the alt-country realm of Neko Case with a bit more Nashville to her style. Her songs come across as heartfelt and are played with much ease and humility as she seemed genuinely gracious to be on stage performing. At one point during the set, she sheepishly introduced her band which included her father on guitar and husband on bass. The band was a well-paired, effective opener for Fleet Foxes, successfully setting the tone for the remainder of the night.
There were no flashing strobe lights, no fog or bright colors and certainly not a U2 rotating claw of a stage when Fleet Foxes made their low-key entrance. The sextet took the stage to begin what would be an unassuming, demure yet passionate 19-song set. Things got underway with "The Cascades" from Helplessness Blues, a strolling instrumental that felt appropriate as a show opener. The momentum picked up quickly with the building "Grown Ocean" which had things in full-swing. The subtleties of the band's layered arrangements really shined as their vocals rang clearly in unison and the instrumentation settled in nicely over the house PA.
The first half of the set was largely comprised of new material. There was little pretension to the evening, but there was a great abundance of musical talent as the band put to good use the mandolin, fiddle and harmonium. Pecknold was engaging all evening; Skyler Skjelset switched between electric, acoustic and mandolin; Casey Wescott and Morgan Henderson switched among instruments all night as well; Christian Wargo and Joshua Tillman filled in on bass and drums respectively, as well as filling out the trademark three-part vocal harmonies with Pecknold.
This was not a show with many standout highlights or moments of sensationalism. Fleet Foxes are simply not that type of band. The stage production was sparse and minimal and there was nothing in the way of production design. There was no wizard behind the curtain for this show, just a vastly talented group that displayed a wide-range of musical nuance and feeling. I was not disappointed by the lack of stage design or the subdued lighting; to the contrary, it was rather refreshing to watch a band that had nothing more to offer than their songs.
The second half of the show seemed to incite more enthusiasm from the audience as many of the songs came from their 2008 self-titled LP. That album solidified their presence in the music scene and was likely the first exposure most people had to Fleet Foxes. You could sense that familiarity with this group of songs as show goers sang along more frequently and swayed to the music.
The highly atmospheric "Blue Ridge Mountains" closed the main set before Pecknold returned for a solo performance of "Oliver James," the first of two encore songs. Band back in tow, the show closed with "Helplessness Blues" which left the crowd in a buzz (which was probably helped along by the pungent smell of pot throughout the night). The no frills, come-as-we-are presentation of the show seemed to resonate well as the evening ended on a high note.