3RD JANUARY 2009
For most people this gig was the first of the new year and in many ways the Fleet Foxes were the indie band of 2008 with their self titled debut appearing at the top of most ‘end of year’ lists. It seemed like the perfect way to kick off a truly packed month or two of shows in Sydney and the style of music the Fleet Foxes deliver was in sync with the ushering in of the new year.
The Dodo’s were the lone support band and are another act to appear out of nowhere in 2008. Their Visiter album was a revelation and definitely the best example of combining african and indie rhythms from the recent crop of releases trading in that area. As a three piece they conjured up a tight and fierce sound with driving intertwined polyrhythms and percussive guitar. The vocals of Meric Long soared urgently and melodically over the coordinated racket though the soundman could have brought his voice more to the fore in the mix. On songs like ‘Fools’ The Dodos showed they could combine the chiming vocals with clockwork drums and folky blues guitar to capture the audience’s attention. I’m sure many would have been checking out the Dodos online the next day.
Fleet Foxes have almost immediately become caricatures of the ethereal folk americana template with their plaid shirts, cardigans and facial hair. As they stepped on stage there was a strong sense of familiarity in the theatre rather than that of a first time meeting. They launched straight into ‘Sun King’, the first track off their first EP. In its raw a cappella form it was the obvious way to begin as the harmonies of the band have been their calling card and a perfect example of how far popular listening tastes have come in the last 15 years. It is worth noting that these young men are on the Sub Pop label.
From then on they ran through the bulk of tracks from both their EP and self titled records. They neatly mixed up the sparser vocally dominant tracks with modestly upbeat songs such as ‘Quiet Houses’ and ‘Ragged Wood’.
Singer Robin Pecknold was the obvious personality in the band, often trading banter with the audience and appearing genuinely surprised at their recognition of songs. He came across as a humble and inherently shy man but showed none of that when he began to sing and play.
One criticism was the sound on the night. There was a definite lack of crispness and clarity to the mix and this did dampen what should have been spine tingling vocal harmonies. Not that the crowd either noticed or cared as they lapped up every moment of the show. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the evening was when Pecknold stepped out from behind the microphone and monitors at the start of the encore. Balanced on the lip of the stage and leaning out toward the fans he delivered a rendition of Katie Cruel with no amplification. It was a master move taking the music back to where it came from.
Minor criticisms aside, it was a really good show and one that won over the crowd from the start. Their next move will be interesting as we wait to see if they continue to mine the same vein of country folk or if their sound grows and develops into something more unique.
Here is some footage of Blue Ridge Mountains (featuring The Dodos) from the show…