sun 23/06/2024

Fleet Foxes, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Fleet Foxes, Hammersmith Apollo

Fleet Foxes, Hammersmith Apollo

Bucolic minstrels impress with old school charm and delicious harmonies

Fleet Foxes: Soaring, startlingly beautiful melodies
Music folklore has it that this band from Seattle changed their name from Pineapple back in the hazy days before their debut album went platinum because frontman Robin Pecknold thought Fleet Foxes sounded like a weird, outmoded English sport - a bit like fox hunting.
Seeing them live at a teeming Hammersmith Apollo last night, the sense of something anachronistically older, somehow simpler and just a touch esoteric that their name suggests seems wonderfully appropriate.

After all, the band’s success rides on their mellifluous Sixties sound. Every note they play feels familiar, like something half-remembered. But theirs isn’t just a careful appropriation of other people’s styles. They have serious talent. Battling against some decidedly dodgy acoustics and dealing with more than one tuning and technical problem, they opened with "Cascades", followed by "Grown Ocean", producing those soaring, startlingly beautiful melodies that won them a ready-made online audience via word of mouth before they were even signed.

They have been called America’s answer to Mumford & Sons, which is to do them a considerable disservice. Sure, there’s the obvious comparison to the high-pitched harmonising of The Beach Boys and The Byrds, but the area where this sextet have serious clout, unlike many of the "nu-folk" groups that have been showcased recently, is the pure storytelling of their writing.

The wattage of songs like “Battery Kinzie” and “Ragged Wood” is heightened live; the varied rhythms, layering of voices and multi-instrumentals is spine-tingling. On the former, Pecknold’s perfect pitch and control is comparable to that of another Sixties icon: Art Garfunkel. Supported by a cello, a ukulele, at times a flute, piano and a slightly overly enthusiastic drummer, the effect is as rich as cream.

Their second album, Helplessness Blues, may only have been released four weeks ago but there were plenty in the 5,000-strong crowd mouthing the words. But, as you’d expect, it was their better-known material, including “White Winter Hymnal” (see video, below), which drew the loudest shrieks and bursts of spontaneous applause.

Pecknold and co are not exactly showmen. They got through the occasional delay between songs, as tuning forks were proffered, by clearing their throats awkwardly. Every so often Pecknold would say thank you for something or to somebody, but mostly he inquired of the crowd, “How’s it going?" as if to say, "Is it all right?" which was quite endearing.

Fleet Foxes play "White Winter Hymnal"


Their rather rustic outfits made the six of them look as if they’ve recently been digging trenches on Time Team and only swapped their trowels for instruments at the last minute. You wouldn’t notice them walking down the street, but then perhaps that’s because they are all about the music and quite evidently couldn’t give a monkeys for the circus of grooming, fashion and celebrity which inevitably goes with it.

Just as their music manages to navigate the potential potholes of over-sentimentality, moroseness and pretentiousness that other bands of the genre fall into, Fleet Foxes appear unspoilt and genuine. The songs from their new album are a bit darker and less poppy than their eponymous first record, but the integrity of their sound and writing has been maintained within a more mature package, which is no mean feat.

The evening ended with the twinkly and bluesy “Blue Ridge Mountains”, another golden oldie from their debut, before a clamouring crowd demanded more and were rewarded with “Helplessness Blues”. For a band which sings of escaping from their lives and the dangers of success, I fear they’ll have to put up with some more of it for a few years at least.

Their music manages to navigate the potential potholes of over-sentimentality, moroseness and pretentiousness that other bands of the genre fall into

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They were indeed very good. I think that the cello might have been a double bass and the ukulele a mandolin however.

The level of their musicianship and in particular the beautiful, soaring vocal harmonies are what carry their performance. They are just so talented and that shines through all the time. Fleet Foxes are all about the music and feel no need to put on a show with any special effects. Robin Pecknold only ever really speaks to the crowd to thank them and ask if everything's OK. There's no need to announce the titles of the songs as it seems everyone knows them anyway. I agree it was a shame that there were some problems with the sound. I thought the bass guitar sounded way too loud where I was standing. The Bees had the same problem too. I liked it that the band members were very careful to keep their instruments in tune all the time, which must have been tricky with the temperature rising all the time. I saw them play once before at a festival and it was so much harder for them to get their sound across in a windswept field. So I'm grateful for having had the chance to see them indoors. Having only had the new album for a few weeks it is hard to make fair comparisons between the two in terms of which I prefer. But I think last night showed that their debut is just so much stronger in terms of the songs on it. 'Helplessness Blues' is a lot deeper and more thoughtful than their first album, where more of the songs seem to tell stories.

What time did they come on?

Hi Cath. The Bees were on at about 7.45 and Fleet Foxes shortly after 9pm. Final encore about 10.45. If you're going, have a great time !

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