Listeners become invested in frontman Robin Pecknold’s enigmatic characters, anxious to hear if they arrive home safe. And Fleet Foxes’ live shows bring forth the shrouded beauty in that journey of self-discovery, where the destination itself is less important than the bravery required to take that tentative first step away from what’s familiar in search of the unknown.
Fleet Foxes returned to the Twin Cities on Saturday night for the first time in six years, playing the first of two sold-out shows at the Palace Theatre. The Seattle sextet delivered a stirring, nearly two-hour set that drew from their entire career. Songs from their new record, Crack-Up, formed the centerpiece of the performance, and that material took on an added resonance in the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose collection of essays, The Crack-Up, inspired the new album.
The perfectly paced set featured smooth transitions from one song to the next, with band members fluidly switching instruments while the codas played out. (Pecknold even expertly moved from acoustic to electric guitar in mid-verse on “The Shrine/An Argument.”) And the sound throughout the performance was lush and impeccable, with Pecknold’s resonant vocals rising tenderly above the band’s graceful arrangements.
The spare but striking stage set featured geometric shapes that suggested mountain ranges as well as the sun and moon. The backdrop was awash in a sunburst of bright colors, bringing to mind a sunrise after a long night of soul-searching.
“I have a lot of family from this part of the country,” Pecknold announced toward the start of the show. “It’s a beautiful place. I noticed the Fitzgerald Theatre around the corner.” He then played a quick jingle from the Ketchup Advisory Council featured on A Prairie Home Companion and joked, “Not sure if any of you will get that reference.” A feisty Jazz Age breakdown at the end of “On Another Ocean (January/June)” was perhaps another tribute to the St. Paul legend who helped define that stylish era.
The crowd definitely connected with the vulnerable songs from Crack-Up, which rang out strong and true. So many Fleet Foxes songs play out like miniature suites, with hushed moments building to swelling crescendos over the course of just three minutes. Louder, more discordant moments made the songs even more robust live, without drowning out the songs’ fragile sentimentality.
As the crowd grew more boisterous throughout the night, Pecknold handled the shouts and song requests far better than he had at the State Theatre in 2011, saying “You guys can talk, it’s Saturday night.” He even hilariously riffed on Coldplay and “Creep” shout outs from the crowd (though he could have misheard both fans), delivering an acoustic mashup of Radiohead’s biggest hit done in the style of “Yellow” (while throwing in a snippet of “Thank U” by Alanis Morissette), where the only lyric he got right was, in fact, the word “creep.” But thankfully the rowdy crowd didn’t derail the performance or cause Pecknold to be less forthcoming.
Pecknold performed “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” “Blue Spotted Tail,” and “Oliver James” solo and acoustic, as he’d written them. But the full band arrangements are where the set truly took flight, with Fleet Foxes delivering glorious takes on “Grown Ocean,” “Your Protector,” “Fool’s Errand,” “Mykonos,” and “Third of May/Odaigahara.” And the blue-focused closing trilogy of “Blue Ridge Mountains,” a cover of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game,” and “Helplessness Blues” offered a strong finale, with “Blue Spotted Tail” continuing the theme after the break.
The night closed the only way it could in St. Paul – with the heady philosophical exploration “Crack-Up.” Pecknold’s lyrics revealed where his mind has been at as of late: “When the world insists/ That the false is so/ With a philippic, as Cicero/ ‘The tighter the fist/ The looser the sand’/ If I don’t resist/ Will I understand?” During this night with Fleet Foxes, our collective journey was captured in the songs that come from searching for yourself, that reveal the person you become when you reach the other side of longing.
I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar
On Another Ocean (January/June)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Third of May/Odaigahara
The Shrine/An Argument
Blue Ridge Mountains
Blues Run the Game
Blue Spotted Tail