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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Shepherds Bush Empire
November 5th 2008

Fleet Foxes
Few new bands can have earned such plaudits over the past year as Seattle five-piece The Fleet Foxes, whose eponymous album (released in June) found dewy-eyed reviewers looking back forty years with unwarranted affection to the great summer of love, whose soundtrack has so clearly inspired composer Robin Pecknold and his colleagues.
These hugely talented young men, (the five-piece which recorded the album subsequently lost two members and gained a couple more, including drummer J Tillman, who played a largely unappreciated acoustic solo support set here), with their unruly hair, unkempt beards and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes, exude the spirit of the sixties. Their conceit is that of the purist, the enthusiast, the gifted amateur, the searcher for truth and beauty rather than fame and fortune – ‘not much of a rock band’ as they describe themselves. And according to the press, the band and their various family members live the sort of idyllic, almost communal life style, that those reviewers harking back to a lost golden age (and no doubt a lost youth too) might wish for themselves. Why, even their merchandise store turns its back on merchandise, preferring to offer ‘artefacts’ for sale instead. Tell me Serge – since when has a t-shirt been an artefact?
The Fleet Foxes
The Fleet Foxes
The Shepherds Bush Empire is packed to the rafters (a lot of the audience sporting unruly hair, unkempt beards and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes) and there is an air of eager, if uncertain, expectation. But whatever the preconceptions, the whole place is blown away by an enchanting start, with the unaccompanied ‘Sun Giant’ followed by album opener ‘The sun it rises’, a song caught somewhere between Steeleye Span’s English idyll, and the unabashed and joyful audacity of ‘Suite Judy blue eyes’ (do you remember just how remarkable that sounded played for the first – or was it second – time at Woodstock?). These boys can sing. It’s not just Pecknold, whose voice must be a recording technician’s dream (and an A&R man’s for that matter) but the whole band. We’ve already heard Tillman’s delicate high-notes, but combined with Pecknold and his colleagues the impact is stunning. However I do get a growing sense of déjà vu as the evening wears on – and realise I’m not thinking back even a few decades but rather a few months. Same theatre, different band. It was the Zombies in March playing the famously miss-spelt Odessey and Oracle, “a piece now regarded as a landmark album – straddling the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson on the one hand and the Beatles and Lennon and McCartney (sorry Sir Paul, I mean McCartney and Lennon) on the other”. And sadly, once that thought got into my mind (not the Sir Paul bit I hasten to add) it unleashed a small wave of negativity which I found difficult to lose as the evening progressed – sadly quite the reverse. And the Photographer was no help – after about 15 minutes, frustrated at not getting a good shot, she had firmly adopted the ‘I’m a bored Photographer get me out of here’ look.
So before Whiskyfun is hacked out of existence by starry-eyed naive and idealistic, unruly hair, unkempt beard and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes-sporting youths, let me repeat how good these guys are, they can play, and as I’ve said, they sing like angels (Pecknold singing Judee Sill’s ‘Crayon Angels’ and ‘Oliver James’ solo was spine-tinglingly good). They’re also quite personable. Anyone who comes on to the stage the day after an American Presidential Election and says “You know, this is the first time I’ve walked on stage and not felt bad about being American” has to win a small place in your heart for their candour alone. And their radio style chit-chat about politics and all that sort of stuff is insouciantly charming. And I did mention they could sing, didn’t I?
Fleet Foxes But the sad fact is they’re all source material and no synthesis. There’s no real argument here – no hypothesis. I’m not saying it’s plagiarism – it’s so much better than that, but these boys have got a long way to go before they’re the real deal. The songs are episodic – almost incomplete. And the lyrics – well if you’ve got a mind open to the realities of the world we live in, then you have to wonder where they could have come from – if not, of course, from Odessey and Oracle and its like.
And you just can’t write songs and keep your head totally in the sand, as some reviewers would seem to wish. But I would like to think that the Fleet Foxes, and their genius Mr Pecknold, do have a truly great album inside them somewhere. And I’ll be the first to buy it.
In the meantime, here’s a nice idea for anyone struggling to decide how to spend their VAT cuts and tax rebates, as the fall of world capitalism brings Christmas strangely closer. This is an after-Christmas-lunch game, for adults only, involving a blindfold and a copy of the Fleet Foxes very nice album, and a copy of the Zombies Odessey and Oracle (Revisited), recorded live at the Bush this year. (If you listen closely you might hear a gentle Fender amplifier hum in the background, but rest assured it was only the Photographer snoring gently). Get your DJ to alternate tracks and try and guess which is which. Hours of fun and seasonal obfustication guaranteed. - Nick Morgan (concert polaroids by Kate and Nick)
Listen: The Fleet Foxes' MySpace page

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