The anarchic performativity and DIY lawlessness of the rock concerts of yesteryear are fixtures of a bygone era. They flicker in our collective imaginations as flashbulb memories, but they are likely to never return again. But in our purportedly post-rock ’n‘ roll sonic landscape, perhaps this need not be an eventuality we ought to turn our noses toward.
Charming the stage at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, Fleet Foxes set their own standard with the earnest serenity of their opener “Sun Giant.” “What a life I lead when the sun breaks free/ As a giant torn from the clouds,” lead vocalist and guitarist Robin Pecknold tenderly hummed, pondering the buoyant promise of eternal becoming through a lyrical emphasis on the transcendence of the earth.
Fleet Foxes followed “Sun Giant” by careening into “Wading in Waist-High Water,” another stilling track that similarly represents a vivifying, sensitive subjectivity through centering the sentiment attached to natural scenery. For the song, Nigerian American singer-songwriter Uwade joined the group onstage, her vocals capturing the bruising admission, “I love you so violent/ More than maybe I can do.”
A standout from the group’s set was their ethereal, elegiac tribute to artists of yore with “Sunblind.” “For Richard Swift/ For John and Bill/ For every gift lifted far before its will,” Pecknold softly sang, his stance modest and unassuming, rather than cocked or ostentatious. The band’s humble streak was cemented by Pecknold’s thoughtful confession: “And in your rarefied air I feel sunblind/ I’m looking up at you there high in my mind.” It is through this open commemoration of the profundity of their influences that the band commenced the remainder of their own set.
Fleet Foxes returned to the dreamy romanticism of their earlier discography with subsequent performances of “Ragged Wood,” “Your Protector” and “He Doesn’t Know Why,” each spilling into another. The tracks, together, formed the threads of a delicately woven tapestry portraying the broken reverie of longing. “Settle down with the fire of my yearning,” Pecknold crooned in “Ragged Wood,” before delving into the anxiety of these feelings, questioning on “Your Protector,” “Would you wait for me?/ The other one would wait for me.” “He Doesn’t Know Why” sees Pecknold at the brink of severing a tie, reaching the reticent acceptance of “There’s nothing I can do/ There’s nothing I can say.”
Pecknold far from embodied the image of a musician of any renown, instead epitomizing the image of the everyman. The artist wore a forest green fleece jacket, a matching cap and denim blue carpenter jeans to accompany his acoustic guitar. While the rest of Fleet Foxes dressed in (comparatively) more formal getup, the band’s collegiate gray blazers and black button-downs still coexisted with a laid-back aesthetic that harmonized with the approachable warmth of their set.
Onstage, Fleet Foxes stood against an ever-shifting backdrop of various images. The screen behind them oscillated between moving film photographs of placid, swaying grass and white carnations with sterile, abstract art characteristic of the early twentieth century — with jarring strobe lights tying the two stark series of illustrations together. The interlacing of each sequence with another suggested an inclination to posture toward the links between boundless growth inherent in art and nature, but constructed the most barren and simplistic of feelings — often at odds with the outpouring of sincerity present in the group’s music.
Toward the end of the show, Pecknold performed a solo, stripped-down rendition of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” As he languorously lounged against a stool, his face and guitar gleamed under the golden halo of the stage lights. “When the birds wait, and the tall grasses wave/ They do not know you anymore, more, more, more,” Pecknold sang, this revelatory disclosure enrapturing an audience of thousands. As countless adults lurched their bodies back and forth, Modelo beers and flashing blue phone lights in hand, one wondered if they knew they were the “they.”