Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Fleet Foxes live at the Sydney Opera House

Seattle sextet Fleet Foxes is touring Australia this summer but it’s their sold-out performances at the Sydney Opera House that got them most excited, with drummer Josh Tillman exclaiming: “Do you guys actually come here often? Is that what Sydney people do?” and likening playing at the house to being at the Taj Mahal. The Concert Hall proved to be the perfect venue, maintaining a sense of intimacy which a FF concert fosters and providing the ultimate acoustics for a live show purely about the music.

Fleet Foxes have achieved their own sound in the midst of a folk-hippie revival. It is not often that a band of humble proportions receives a standing ovation at a major city landmark. They are versatile as musicians – each member is not exclusively tied to one instrument, bringing out flutes, dulcimers and Tibetan singing bowls during the show- and skilled at performing their multi-harmonised songs. The vocals seemed to be drowned out a lot of the time, with lead singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold straining to be heard above the layered sounds in the hall- which is a shame as the lyrics were lost to any new listeners, especially the more poignant ones of 2011’s Helplessness Blues.

The lighting for the show was simple but effective; at climactic parts of the songs it shone into the audience. The concert focused on the music, with the patient audience sitting silently while the artists shifted around instruments between tracks. Background graphics enhanced the viewing experience, ranging from nature scenes to psychedelic patterns. However, the folk enthusiast audience was pleasurably immersed in the sound of FF’s dense vocal arrangements and Pecknold’s masterfully created music.

The set list included new songs such as Battery Kinzie and Grown Ocean as well as the much-loved Your Protector, Blue Ridge Mountains and White Winter Hymnal. The opening strums of 2008 favourite Mykonos early on in the show let the audience know that the band wasn’t about to abandon its classic tracks. Pecknold was in the spotlight for most of the concert but the live setting allowed the audience to see the dynamics of the complex music, with the six musicians performing well together and skillfully in their own right. The songs flowed beautifully into each other but it was the new track The Shrine/An Argument that stood out for me – even receiving a cheer when it began.

Overall a more humble and traditional approach to stage performance worked well for Fleet Foxes, whose unique music and exceptional talent was deeply expressed to an audience of devoted fans.   

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