thu 01/12/2022

Fleet Foxes, Islington Assembly Hall review - exceedingly alive | reviews, news & interviews

Fleet Foxes, Islington Assembly Hall review - exceedingly alive

Fleet Foxes, Islington Assembly Hall review - exceedingly alive

A very particular musical ecosphere exerts its pull

Fleet Foxes's Robin Pecknold: the hat stays onFleet Foxes

Just under two weeks ago, Fleet Foxes finished their US tour at the 13,000-capacity Forest Hills Stadium. Now, here they are kicking off their European dates in an auditorium attached to a North London town hall. Capacity 890. Unsurprisingly, it’s sold out. And very hot. After he comments on the heat, someone shouts at head fox Robin Pecknold to take his hat off. “Never” is his response.

Although the continents and venues contrast, this leg of what’s dubbed the Shore Tour 2022 after their September 2020 fourth album cleaves to what American audiences have seen. Bar a few solo Pecknold excisions the set list is the same, as is the extended band line-up.

It begins with a declaration. The first three songs are, in order, Shore’s opening trio: “Wading in Waist-High Water,” “Sunblind,” “Can I Believe you.” Intriguingly, the vocal for “Wading in Waist-High Water” is taken by Arlo Parks-ish support act Uwade rather than Pecknold. The introductory statement appears to say “we’re about where we are now, park any expectations.” Nonetheless, “Can I Believe you” is followed by "Ragged Wood" from their first album and after the 85-minute set and five-song encore, it’s pretty clear where Fleet Foxes are at.

All bases are covered. Songs like “Third Of May,” “White Winter Hymnal,” “Featherweight” and “Your Protector” cut through most immediately due to their jagged, saw-tooth structure. Sinuous sine-wave songs – “Long Way Past the Past,” “Can I Believe you” – are for bathing in, for swimming along with.

As ever, a Fleet Foxes show nods to what’s at their core musically: Crosby, Stills & Nash (“Ragged Wood”), the untethered Graham Nash (“Mykonos”), Simon and Garfunkel (“Your Protector”). There’s also some Pentangle in “Your Protector.” The version of Big Red Machine’s – sung on record by Anaïs Mitchell and Pecknold: BRM is The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon – “Phoenix” conjures The Band. A cover of Judee Sill’s 1973 album track “The Kiss” further stresses the lineage.

But is this where they are at? Are Fleet Foxes really a band for whom the world stopped in 1973? No. There’s a whole lot more to chew on.

The core band of Pecknold (guitar, vocals). Morgan Henderson (bass, flute, saxophone, double bass, tambourine), Skye Skjelset (guitar), Christian Wargo (bass, guitar – cool Vox 12-string – vocals) and Casey Westcott (mandolin, keyboards) is supplemented by jazzer Christopher Icasiano (drums – also in Pure Bathing Culture, challenging duo Bad Luck, as well as a recording solo), Andy Clausen (trombone), Willem de Koch (trombone) and Chloe Rowlands (trumpet). Uwade is on and off stage too. Herewith, the Fleet Foxes big band.

Icasiano’s presence is really felt. His rolling, propulsive style brings an immediate presence to everything. Wargo’s bass playing is an attractive rumble which can edge towards a Peter Hook throb. And when his and Pecknold's singing unites, it’s extraordinary to again realise that the Fleet Foxes crystalline, twisty, massed vocal top line is just two voices – it sounds like three, four people. And the brass playing is just lovely, adding an aural swoon. As does Henderson’s flute. The only issue is that Skjelset’s guitar is often inaudible, and only to the fore after he took up a Telecaster for the encore's rocking “An Argument.” Perhaps the somewhat mushy sound was a result of there being too many players on stage for the size of the venue.

Energy wise there’s nothing about the past. There are powerful kinetics, even during the reflective moments. Intensity too. As he sings it, Pecknold lives inside “The Kiss.” It is all exceedingly alive. If possible, see Fleet Foxes on their upcoming dates – it won’t take long to be pulled into this very particular musical ecosphere.

@MrKieronTyler

Comments

Uwade performed the vocals on Wading for the recording of Shore.

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