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Live Review and Photos: Fleet Foxes and The Cave Singers, May 7, 2011, Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA


What constitutes a perfect concert? Well, there are the obvious performance traits: how effectively the band played their songs, the setlist, the between song banter, and the pacing. Then there is the venue, the sound quality, the general atmosphere and the vibe in the crowd. And then there are the intangibles. How good is the band? How important does the show feel? Ultimately, how memorable was the experience?

Obviously, these criteria will differ from person to person, but, speaking as someone who sees a lot of bands at a lot of venues at all different stages of their career, Fleet Foxes pitched as close to a perfect game as I have seen in recent memory. Playing a smart variety from their original EP, self-titled LP, and recently released album, Helplessness Blues, the Pacific Northwestern six-piece made a most successful transition to a large stage, entertained an audience ranging from children to grandparents, and proved that folk-rock that defies any typical commercial logic can indeed be commercial if it is executed perfectly and attacked creatively. They are it right now, and it appears as if no one is arriving late to this party.

Opening the sold-out show in L.A.’s largest indoor concert hall that doesn’t double as a sports arena was The Cave Singers, self-proclaimed “old friends” of the Foxes. Seeing them perform, you could see how the two bands would get along. The Cave Singers have a similar grass-roots vibe, contrasting with the Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves projects that guitarist Derek Fudesco was a part of. A three piece, the band kept things lively, with foot-stomping rhythms and masterful acoustic guitar leads from Fudesco. But, it was vocalist Pete Quirk that carried the show, delivering tried and true melodies with an eager-to-please rasp, admitting that it was the largest crowd he thought they had ever played for. If that is true, you couldn’t tell. The Cave Singers more than filled their 40-minutes set time, they capitalized on it, offering a set that would appeal to the Fleet Foxes fans and convert them to being Cave Singers fans, as well.

Between sets, there were several notable oddities. No monitors were set up in front of the band, which some research has revealed is because they use some high-tech ear gizmos to hear themselves. For the mic testing, Robin Pecknold himself came out on stage, causing an eruption from the audience, which the Fleet Foxes lead singer waved off. He then proceeded to perform a couple of songs for just himself to hear through his ear piece and retreated to the side-stage where he remained until the band was ready to start.

As the band took to the stage, Pecknold took giant, exaggerated strides and voiced sincere gratitude to the 4,000 people in attendance. As a frontman, Robin Pecknold is anything but prototypical. He is genuinely funny, humble, and engaging, all without ever seeming like he is putting on a show. He has a rare calm about him when he is in front of people, allowing the ability to create an intimate setting in an less intimate environment. It is graceful. It is, well, perfect.

To the right of the band was a pretty epic guitar rig of at least a dozen instruments, and after opener “The Cascades,” when every band member quickly changed instruments, it became apparent why so much equipment was required. It came off as nearly meticulous, how the band moved into semi-rocker “Grown Ocean” and then Sun Giant EP standout “Drops In The River,” with the band fluctuating between letting loose and holding together. Most of the songs were played faithfully, and if you know how difficult some of Pecknold’s vocals can be to pull off, this was beyond surprising. It was miraculous.

Over the course of the 100-minute set, certain revelations came about the band. Some were simple, as I was reminded of how good of a song “Mykonos” is, and how much better it is when played live. See, “Mykonos” and many others were served by just being louder than they appear on the album, with more low-end and the harmonies being raised in the mix. Other revelations came as to the actual talent level of the band, as bows were struck against guitars during “Drops In The River,” a double-tambourine appeared during “Your Protector,” and the conclusion of “A Shrine/An Argument” concluded with a bass clarinet solo. And then there were the subtleties, like how “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” was expanded from a solo number to a full band arrangement.

The crowd operated in the space between too quiet and too noisy, coming off as respectful and leading Pecknold to note, “you guys are a well-mannered audience… Are they not serving beer?” But a trip to the men’s room proved this to be not the case, as a couple bro’s and a drunken dad harmonized “Ragged Wood” while urinating. The atmosphere, though, was contrasted by one look at the ground, which was still cluttered with glitter and confetti from Kei$ha’s show days before. In fact, the rowdiest the audience reached was on the transition from “Winter White Hymnal” to “Ragged Wood,” which was was seamless and saw the crowd applauding one while reacting to the intro of the other. Some dancing could be seen and there was no doubt that the crowd was having fun.

And though it didn’t feature many of the cliches of a normal big rock show (the band played on this at one point, offering up their version of a big finish, complete with J Tillman going apeshit on drums), Fleet Foxes came out of their evening as both giving the fans their money’s (and time’s) worth while keeping their dignity and integrity intact. Fleet Foxes are not Arcade Fire, or Coldplay, or Wilco, all of whom also have the big rock show down pat. No, Fleet Foxes are, well, Fleet Foxes, and they are seeing some great success in just being themselves, proving that they are the next band worthy of seeing their name in lights like the aforementioned artists. And if they keep hitting homeruns like they did on Saturday night, the venues will continue to increase in size. At least we know now that they will rise to the occasion.

Setlist:

The Cascades
Grown Ocean
Drops In The River
Battery Kinzie
Bedouin Dress
Sim Sala Bim
Mykonos
Your Protector
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Winter White Hymnal
Ragged Wood
Lorelai
Montezuma
He Doesn’t Know Why
A Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Blue Ridge Mountains

Silver Dagger (Joan Baez cover)
Helplessness Blues


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