2020 has not been the year anybody anticipated. But it inspired Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold to take the band’s latest music in a new direction, as he wrote and recorded the band’s latest album, Shore, entirely in quarantine. Shore is a record reflective of the past year, one that searches for joyful connection with others in the midst of disparate times. Pecknold’s latest livestream, a solo performance titled “A Very Lonely Solstice,” channeled this appreciation for life into a moving set of songs that offered solace to the lonely on the longest night of the year.
The livestream took place Dec. 21, the night of the winter solstice. Performed inside St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, the concert was streamed via Noonchorus.
The Very Lonely Solstice kicked off with an unexpected bit of company: Opening shots of the dimly lit church interior made way for gorgeous vocal harmonies and the gentle strumming of acoustic guitar as Pecknold sat masked in the center, surrounded by members of of the Resistance Revival Chorus spread in a socially distanced fashion across the pews. Together, the ensemble performed Shore opener “Wading In Waist-High Water,” imbuing the atmosphere with a feeling of serenity. This would be the only time the choir would join in; the rest of the set moved up to the balcony, where Pecknold perched alone to deliver solo renditions of the band’s songs.
In this mode of isolation, the concert began to shine. With just an acoustic guitar, Pecknold traded in the songs’ grandiose studio recording arrangements for an understated and more intimate sound. He delivered them with the startling clarity and immediacy that only a concert under these circumstances could produce.
Punctuated by silence, Pecknold’s vocals hovered in the empty space, conjuring the memory of those his songs were dedicated to. From his performance of “Sunblind,” a song that celebrates the legacy of some of Pecknold’s inspirations, including Arthur Russell and David Berman, to his covers of the Bee Gees’ “In the Morning” and the traditional folk-song “Silver Dagger,” Pecknold’s voice radiated adoration and love, his pristine tenor vocals shining through.
Pecknold transitioned through songs from Fleet Foxes’ discography, forgoing the inclusion of bigger, more popular songs in favor of subtler selections. Present in the set list were some of the band’s earlier songs, such as “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Blue Spotted Tail,” which benefited greatly from the acoustic setting. Every gentle pluck and strum of the guitar sat front and center during these two songs, and they featured some of Pecknold’s finest vocal performances of the night — even surpassing the quality of the studio recordings.
The biggest song of the night was “Helplessness Blues,” the set’s centerpiece and emotional apex. Perhaps Pecknold’s finest achievement in songwriting, his performance of the band’s timeless track “Helplessness Blues” perfectly captured the existential fears of the masses and responded to them with resolve and love as the music rang throughout the empty halls.
The livestream ended on an empathetic note with Pecknold’s renditions of “If You Need to, Keep Time on Me” and “I’m Not My Season.” Channeling the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the times, Pecknold seemed to conclude the set with reassurance that we are all in it together, regardless of what the future holds. No grand gestures, no showstopping special effects or visuals, just company. In this context, the stripped-back nature of the set proved that even without the instrumental flourishes or the sun-soaked harmonies, Pecknold’s songs can still shine. At the heart of Fleet Foxes’ music are simply great songs.
Dedicated to the memory of Sam Jayne, frontman of indie rock band Love As Laughter, “A Very Lonely Solstice” served as an uplifting reminder that even without physical closeness, we aren’t really alone.