As the lights dimmed over the Hearst Greek Theatre, a spotlight shined on the right side of the stage, revealing not Fleet Foxes, but the Westerlies. The brass quartet that accompanied Fleet Foxes on its latest album, Crack-Up, trilled out a beautiful horn intro that left a gentle, brassy feel in its wake –– the perfect opening to Fleet Foxes’ honey, folk sound.
Opening the show with two of the calmer songs from Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes eased the audience into the contagious acoustic beat of “Grown Ocean” from Helplessness Blues (released in 2011). As the rhythm consumed the crowd, lead singer Robin Pecknold shared a soft smile, his eyes downcast, that reflected the reserved yet warm tone the audience could expect of the band’s set.
Fleet Foxes’ setlist was often punctuated with musical interludes that showcased Morgan Henderson’s diverse talent on instruments such as the saxophone, upright bass and flute. Pecknold shared a couple of laughs with the audience when he asked, “How high is everyone?” –– claiming that the smoke machines weren’t even needed. Aside from this exchange and multiple thank-yous after every song, Pecknold was pretty quiet. Instead of bantering with the audience, he connected with it successfully through his magnetic, raw voice and thoughtful, lulling setlist.
The audience danced through “Ragged Wood” and “Your Protector,” songs from the self-titled album Fleet Foxes, alongside a simple, psychedelic backdrop and lighting that matched the atmosphere in the Greek Theatre perfectly. Fleet Foxes’ dreamy, earthy energy was a welcome escape, and lyrics such as “Caught in a waking dream” were evocative of the mood in the pit.
The pace of the concert slowed after the instrumental “The Cascades,” with Pecknold launching into “Fool’s Errand.” The tempo changes were accompanied by bluesy pink and purple lighting that created a transcendental moment. Lead guitarist Skyler Skjelset rocked a see-through guitar –– emblematic of the transparency of the band’s humble attitude –– as he hunched over to create the familiar plucking sound that is characteristic of Fleet Foxes.
When the band left Pecknold and his acoustic guitar center stage for “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” the crowd swayed silently as his angelic serenade filled every crevice of the theater. As Pecknold began the second verse, the audience’s crooning could be heard alongside his own, the bond between singer and crowd reverberating from stage to theater. As the song ended, all the band members came back to the stage, audience cheers at a high, as Fleet Foxes launched directly into the popular “Mykonos” off of 2008’s Sun Giant.
The encore featured “Meadowlarks”, which was played, by request, for an audience member who had just had brain surgery four days before. Pecknold’s pre-emptive apology that he had only played the song live once was unnecessary, as the lullaby-esque sound brought tears to the audience’s eyes. As Fleet Foxes quickly transitioned from “Meadowlarks” into “Oliver James,” the encore picked up pace.
The audience clapped along with the steady beat of the band’s last song, “Helplessness Blues,” prompted by Pecknold’s tapping on his guitar. Smiles were abundant as the concert came to an end in a celebration of Fleet Foxes’ cosmic sound.
When the band waved goodbye, with Pecknold saying, “Thank you so much,” for possibly the 50th time, it is likely that each and every member of the audience was also thinking the same thing. Fleet Foxes left the Berkeley crowd with the taste of the night’s music still on its lips, the band’s sheer talent and depth something we are unlikely to forget.
Fleet Foxes’ music is beloved by their large following –– and not just on 4/20. The band’s reserved interactions with the crowd and Pecknold’s many thank-yous indicated the band’s down-to-earth attitude and made the show wholesome. The obvious pride Fleet Foxes takes in creating rich, harmonious music with lyrics that allow the listener’s mind to wander off the beaten path made the tour for Crack-Up unmissable.
Contact Roshni Rawal at [email protected].