Concerts Concerts Getting Folky with Fleet Foxes

Getting Folky with Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes
Alela Diane & Wild Divine
Massey Hall in Toronto, ON
July 14, 2011

Review by: Katie Christensen
Photos by: Robert Ciolfi

When frequenting concerts in this fair city, one gets used to a few things.

Fleet Foxes

Entering a venue often involves an encounter with a large, cross-armed man in black asking for identification while someone else searches your purse and body. Upon entering Massey Hall however, a greeter complete with a vest and bowtie takes tickets and ushers personally escort patrons to their seats. Every one of the comfortable beige corduroy seats are prime within this architecturally magnificent building, complimenting the unique experience that was this Fleet Foxes show.

Under the glow of orange spotlights, Fleet Foxes opened the night with the instrumental prelude "The Cascades" morphing into the anathematic single "Grow Ocean", with their anachronisic harmony reverberating off the walls. "Drops in the River" off their EP Sun Giant gave a glimpse into their modest beginnings. The band then launched into "Battery Kinzie", "Bedouin Dress" and a personal favorite heavy-strumming raga "Sim Sala Bim" off their recent full-length album, Helplessness Blues. The woodsy quintet took things back to their self titled LP playing "Your Protector", "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song", "Ragged Wood" and fan favorite "White Winter Hymnal". Appropriately, blue lights created a serene glow reminicent of the Aegean sea as they performed "Mykonos" off Sun Giant.

The stripped down stage brought focus to the musicians and their many instruments, which implied a testament to their love of making music for music's sake without commodification. Lead singer Robin Pecknold's ghostly tenor left the audience fixated, only breaking the enchantment with comments on the audience or how Massey Hall "looks like a big hug." The audience sadly didn't share the same sense of demure and peppered the band with random shout outs, though one fan's amusing cry of "I love Fleet Foxes!" was quickly followed by drummer Joshua Tillman's quip "I hear they're playing tonight." Though the jeering was distracting and at times annoying, the audience's love for the band was evident as every song was met with roaring applause. 

Fleet Foxes ended their set with a collection of songs off Helplessness Blues - the beautiful "Lorelei"; the album opener "Montezuma"; and finally with the 8-minute saga, "The Shrine/An Argument". The folk traditions from which they stem (such as Crosby Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, The Zombies, Simon & Garfunkel to name a few) is evident, yet the songs are also emblematic of the change in tone and tumultuous road Fleet Foxes have travelled. Pecknold's voice and lyrics take a serious tone as he reflects on the unraveling of his relationship and confronts universal concerns about life in the opening line of "Montezuma" as he sings "So now, I am older than my mother and father when they had their daughter, now what does that say about me?". Talent doesn't begin to cover what Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset (guitar), Tillman, Casey Wescott (keyboards), and Morgan Henderson (multi-instrumentalist) have. The album is rich with a wide variety of instruments, including mandolins, bowed double bass, piano, harmonium, flute and saxophone, all played by Henderson.

The show's high note occurred during the encore with Pecknold's solo performance of "Oliver James", accompanied by the audience clapping along. Chills rippled down my spine when he reached the chorus and the full capability of his voice was fully realized.  The night came to a close with an existential exploration in the title track "Helplessness Blues". In all, the concert coupled with the album made for a cohesive experience that left fans in greater anticipation for their next show in Toronto.

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Alela Diane & Wild Divine

Portland-based, Nevada-born musician Alela Diane opened the evening with her backing band the Wild Divine consisting of Jonas Haskins (Bass), Jason Merculief (Drums), Tom Bevitori (guitar) and her father Tom Menig (lead guitar). Most of her performance were songs from her third album Alela Diane & Wild Divine released in April this year on Rough Trade Records. Written mostly on the road with her father and perfected over a year long hiatus, the album showcases Diane's personal and musical growth as she trades her banjo for violins while maintaining her alt-country sound.

A self-professed homebody, Diane seemed comfortable on stage belting out her dusty songs in a black lace dress, pointy leather boots and bright orange-hued lips. Diane's confidence and soulful delivery was reminiscent of Sarah McLaughlin and Laura Marling. The highlight for me was when she sang "Of Many Colors", an ode to her husband Tom Bevitori, which highlighted her stream-of-consciousness writing style and offered strange turns of phrase such as, "Amidst the gold, there is dust in every heart". "The Wind" was also a particularly beautiful song with mandolin and pedal steel. Never hearing Alela Diane before, seeing her performance has made me an instant admirer and fan.

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