Fleet Foxes @ the Oriental TheaterBy Jeremy Meyer | October 21st, 2008 | No Comments »
Fleet Foxes third concert in Denver this year was a packed, triumphant event that still could have benefited from better sound. Photos by Laurie Scavo.
Last Wednesday, when Sen. John McCain was introducing the country to Joe the Plumber, a crowd that fits a demographic squarely in Sen. Barack Obama’s camp obviously didn’t care about the presidential debate. Eschewing political rancor for pitch-perfect harmonies and sprightly melodies of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, a crowd of mostly 20-somethings packed the Oriental Theater for a concert that seemed right out of 1968 — albeit with cell phones being raised in lieu of lighters.
The Fleet Foxes are on one of those meteoric rises that occur every so often in rock music — bands that once couldn’t draw a quorum in a Larimer Lounge or Hi-Dive and that are now selling out mid-sized theaters on the way to bigger venues.
The Fleet Foxes arguably have one of the best albums of 2008, a self-titled disc on Sub Pop that now sells alongside Pumpkin Spice lattes at Starbucks.
The corporate positioning and endless loops in America’s favorite caffeine shack is likely the origin of the band’s new fan base. That may grate on some hipsters, but it would have been a travesty for a band this good with an album this timeless to go unrecognized by the masses.
Fleet Foxes seem a sensible mashup for today’s iPod generation, offering a blend somewhere between the Eagles, Simon and Garfunkle, the Shins and My Morning Jacket. On Wednesday (a.k.a. debate night) the five-piece with the shaggy look of Buffalo Springfield took the stage about the same time Joe the Plumber heard his name for the 24th time on national television.
The Oriental Theater, nestled in a northwest Denver neighborhood, must have an early curfew for a headliner to go on at 9:15 p.m. and finish by 11 p.m. The venue offered a hippy and almost vaudevillian backdrop with the band playing before lush red drapes and a mirrorball showering the group with trippy, sparkly light.
The hall, however, has some serious sound issues. If you were unlucky enough to be on the side aisles, the sound was hard, tin-like and almost indecipherable. If you were fortunate to be directly in front of the stage, either in the balcony or on the floor, you could actually hear the music and follow lead singer Robin Pecknold’s banter that meandered from discussing Naropa University to Lynard Skynard and even a mention of my favorite SuperSonic, Shawn Kemp.
But bland blather wasn’t why we were there. Give us some of that “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” boys. Pecknold has a barrel-chested howl that fits the band’s genre, dubbed alt-Appalachian, with bluegrass instruments and harmonies that would make Glenn Frey jealous.
When Pecknold’s vocals mesh with the three- and four-part harmonies from the rest of this group, there aren’t many bands among the Pitchfork crowd that can match the Fleet Foxes. Songs like “White Winter Hymnal,” “Blue Ridge Mountains,” “Mykonos” and “Oliver James” transfixed the crowd with harmonies so pure that you yearned to hear them in a venue like Denver’s Buell Theatre or somewhere where acoustics are a premium.
After the encore, Pecknold stood on the stage alone, moved away from the microphone and the crowd quieted for a version of the traditional folk song, “Katie Cruel.”
Here’s this guy, in his early 20s, singing a classic folk song without any accompaniment or even amplification and just totally nailing it. Amazing. Take that, Joe the Plumber.
Jeremy Meyer is a Denver Post reporter and Reverb contributor.
Laurie Scavo is a Denver freelance photographer and regular Reverb contributor.