Robin Pecknold and co play songs from latest album Shore and beyond, proving how they still occupy a special place in the hearts of many
One of the many ways that the music industry has been adversely impacted by covid has been artists being deprived of the opportunity to capitalise on the early momentum of a new album in playing it live soon after release. Fleet Foxes released fourth album Shore back in September 2020 but we’ve had to wait almost two years to appreciate its high resolution, soaring songs in a live setting.
An intimate show at Islington Assembly Hall, ahead of them appearing at All Points East alongside the likes of The National and Mogwai, presented London fans with their first chance to see how these songs translated live. They began by playing the opening three tracks of the album in order, the first, Wading In Waist-High Water featuring Uwade Akhere on vocals (she had earlier opened the show with a solo set). Sunblind and Can I Believe You follow, encapsulating the brighter, expanded sound on the album but also hinting at the challenges of replicating flawlessly studio produced songs live. The sumptuous vocal harmonies of the album are either replaced or bolstered tonight with brass but the timeless, classic sound is largely preserved.
They revert back to older material next with Ragged Wood and Your Protector, both still fan favourites but also showing how they’ve evolved in recent years. Another song from that era, White Winter Hymnal, is aired early in the set and is still delectable sonic confectionery of the highest order. Crack-Up is represented tonight by the epic, widescreen Mearcstapa and the rolling expanse of Third Of May. It is tracks like these in particular that tonight show how they aren’t afraid to afford the songs space and time, even if that results in some low key moments that see volume levels dip to near silence. It is after one of these when frontman Robin Pecknold remarks how sweaty it is inside the venue. A member of the audience urges him to take his hat off to which he humorously retorts “never!”
They play Phoenix by Big Red Machine (the side project of The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon) that Pecknold sings on and also cover The Kiss by cult ’70s Laurel Canyon singer songwriter Judee Sill (Pecknold is a long term fan). Before long they revert back to familiar ground with early favourites like Mykonos and Montezuma. The former remains one of their most perfectly formed moments while the latter, played solo by Pecknold, is striking in its stripped back simplicity. A Long Way Past The Past turns attention back to Shore, all creamy consonance and renewed emotional depth.
The atmosphere may have taken a little time to fully ignite but by the time they play a surprisingly intense version of The Shrine/An Argument in the encore the reaction is rapturous and unanimous. They end with the title track from Helplessness Blues, its closing lyrics of “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m raw, if I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore” still offering a neat summation of their endearing humbleness and modesty. As they leave the stage amid a sea of vocal appreciation there’s no doubt that these are songs that still occupy a special place in the hearts of many.