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Fleet Foxes Fire Up The Metro

Observer Scene | Wednesday, October 15, 2008

American pop culture is in the midst of a severe downward spiral. While comedy endeavors have held their own in relation to the past as well as the rest of the world, other genres of entertainment are virtually in ruins. “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” topped the box office this past weekend. The American movie viewing public isn’t “aggressively mediocre,” they’re aggressively idiotic.

Pop music isn’t much better. While Jennifer Hudson and Robin Thicke battle for the top spot on the charts, many college students count annoying, banal acts such as Maroon 5 and Coldplay among their favorites (Or “favs”). It is far from surprising then that the few legitimate music artists out there are appropriating from their parent’s record collections. One of the best at that endeavor is the newest indie group from Seattle, Fleet Foxes.

Led by earnest, neo-hippie Robin Pecknold, the Fleet Foxes released their debut album, a self-titled Double LP, in June of this year on Sub Pop Records, the previous home of Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. The record has received a warm critical reception, notably receiving the highest Pitchfork rating to date. While the lavish praise has created some doubters, the Foxes have responded by touring relentlessly throughout the U.S. and Europe.

This Sunday night, the traveling band of troubadours pulled the caravan over just two blocks shy of Wrigley Field at the famous Metro. The Metro has quietly become one of the best concert venues in the U.S. recently. With a capacity nodding over 1,000, the Metro established itself in the 1980s and early 90s as a destination for up and coming alternative acts. Notable shows have included The Smashing Pumpkins farewell concert, as well as two Bob Dylan shows following the release of the stunning “Time Out of Mind.”

After a quick 30-minute set by mountain folkie Frank Fairfiled, the five bearded gentlemen from the Pacific Northwest took the stage. Pecknold’s voice was reminiscent of Graham Nash, yet his tenor maintained its strength even as he screamed above is five piece band.

Pecknold and the Foxes played the majority of their debut album, as well as most of the songs off their 2008 “Sun Giant EP.” Both records are characterized by three and four part harmonies, which echoed throughout the small Northside venue like forlorn shouts bouncing in the Smoky Mountains.

The Fleet Foxes harmonic folk brings a keen notion of melody to Pecknold’s lyrics, which focus on the beauty of nature and life. Whereas peer Craig Finn borrows lines from “On the Road,” Pecknold explores themes present in the lesser know Kerouac novel “The Dharma Bums.” In this later work, Kerouac trades the speed-infused 6 a.m. jazz blowouts for a bottle of wine and the terrain of the American Northwest.

Crowd favorites included the up-tempo “Mykonos” and the set closer “Blue Ridge Mountains.” The 15-song, 90-minute set was broke up by Pecknold performing two songs without his bearded friends. The lead singer sang a touching version of Judee Still’s “Crayon Angels,” followed by the acoustic ballad “Oliver James.” During their encore, the band also treated the capacity crowd, which included members of Wilco and Beach House, to a new, unreleased song, “Silver City.” Pecknold picked up an electric on this tune, yet there were no “Judas” declarations as the Foxes showed that their new album will continue to accentuate their knack for harmonic melodies.

Since their last stint in the capital of the Midwest, the Foxes have clearly matured as a live act. Their live performance now accentuates their magnificent debut record. Pecknold looked comfortable throughout the night, trading jokes with the audience. At one point Pecknold responded to a member of the audience, “You really would rather have corn than Sarah Palin as your V.P.?” Most of the audience nodded in jest, but also with the hope that in some fashion a part of this band could enter their society. It won’t happen, but if it did what a more tolerable place America would be.

The views expressed in this coloumn are that of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. James DuBray can be contacted at jdubray@nd.edu.