When Fleet Foxes announced an indefinite hiatus in 2012, during which frontman Robin Pecknold attended Columbia University, many were unsure of when or if the band would return. But after half a decade, to the delight of fans, Fleet Foxes have reunited and are on tour in support of their third album, Crack-Up, the band’s first new release in six years.
Of the album, which was written by Pecknold and co-produced by him and original band member Skyler Skjelset, Fleet Foxes said: “We aspired to make an album that could stand alongside our previous work, venture into its own territory and that would leave a clear horizon for us moving forward.” Clearly the band has accomplished this goal, as the reception for Crack-Up has been enthusiastic. The album debuted at No. 9 on Billboard 200.
The eagerness for Fleet Foxes’ return was evident Saturday night (Sept. 23) at the Hollywood Bowl, where they had a sold-out show. As the band members arrived onstage, introduced with an orchestral number performed by New York brass band the Westerlies, Pecknold could be seen jumping onstage and waving to the crowd, suitably excited. Those in the packed venue reciprocated that excitement. After all, Angelenos had last seen the band perform live in 2011, when Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues was a significant critical success and earned a Grammy nomination for best folk album.
The band primarily focused on Crack-Up but also delved into earlier material. Despite the large venue, Pecknold’s vocals were able to reach those in the far back, highlighted by the band’s impressive musicianship, including the accompaniment of the Westerlies on several songs. It all coalesced to create a rich, ethereal setting. During “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” as Pecknold sang the chorus (“Dear shadow alive and well, how can the body die") with a video screen displaying a background of stars, the moment managed to feel surprisingly intimate in the 17,000-plus venue. It was the minimal moments, such as the sparse intro of “White Winter Hymnal,” likely the band’s best-known song, or “He Doesn’t Know Why," when Pecknold sings the chorus’ echoing “nothing,” that punctuated the expansive surroundings with depth and emotion.
Throughout the night, fans yelled “Robin!” adoringly or requested songs, some of which Pecknold could not hear clearly. At one point, he asked, “Are you saying ‘Order up’?” He then joked, “Somebody’s cheeseburger is ready.” During another moment, a fan requested Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy,” to which he responded in mock confusion: “You want me to play a Pearl Jam song?” (He had performed a cover of that song in 2013 on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.) Instead, he offered a “Tom Petty song. We’ll do a Tom Petty set. ’Cause he’s on his day off,” referencing Petty’s three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Pecknold then quipped, “He’s going to sue us tomorrow,” before segueing to the Sun Giant EP track “Mykonos.”
Pecknold mostly kept dialogue to a minimum, explaining: “We have a curfew, so we’re just trying to plow through some stuff.” The band performed nearly all of the planned set list, except the encore, which was to be the title track “Crack-Up,” as the 10:45 p.m. curfew was reached by the time “Helplessness Blues” reached its conclusion.
He did take some time to reminisce, thanking special guest Beach House. “The first time we ever played with Beach House was many years ago at the Staples Center,” said Pecknold, before adding, “It was actually just at a Staples.”
More than anything, it was clear that Fleet Foxes were both grateful and thrilled to be back onstage. “I feel like I’m going to wake up any minute now. This is unbelievable,” said Pecknold. “Thank you very, very much for being here. ... To see you guys, who may or may not be real, is just incredible.” The night’s only disappointment was when the show was over, as fans could be heard groaning as the house lights went on.
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