Fleet Foxes photographs by Rich Thane.
It’s nice to suddenly find yourself at a gig that’s gone from being a slightly obscure “up-and-coming” type show to a full blown queue-round-the-block hot ticket in the space of a few weeks. Tonight’s sold out ULU Bella Union showcase is exactly that, with Fleet Foxes garnering 5/5 reviews in every broadsheet and monthly magazine going. Fame, it seems, is looking over their shoulder, and tonight’s gig feels like a significant moment in their rapid rise.
But first, Beach House, playing songs from their new album Devotion. Their organ-led music breathes down from the speakers, languid and summery like an endless afternoon spent walking on some distant coastal peninsula, reverb drenched vocals lingering over picked guitar strings and delicate rhythms. There’s a sense of time standing still, or at least oozing along at a glacial pace, that seems to link directly with the vague sense of boredom that total freedom can bring – a barely tangible lack of urgency that seems bourgeois, somehow. This is by no means a bad thing, and bands as disparate as Broadcast and Fiery Furnaces create the same odd sensation. If it’s possible to be both utterly absorbing and oddly disconnected at the same time, Beach House are the band to do it.
Beach House by Lucy Johnston
Fleet Foxes take the stage to deafening applause that borders on feverish anticipation, and seem genuinely taken aback by the scale of the response. They ply simple, heartfelt, deeply American harmonies from a the long lineage of Americana that you can trace from the blues masters through wholesome 70′s stuff like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Neil Young to recent bands such as Whiskeytown, Akron Family and Iron & Wine. They are unreformedly traditional band in instrumentation and approach, aeons away from the various electro/indie/rave hybrids that continue to darken our doorstep here in mucky London.
Fleet Foxes clearly have something special, not least in the charisma of their pale-eyed, boyish frontman Robin Pecknold, who regales the audience with self-concious banter about how awesome the band’s driver is and how headlining sold out London shows is such a difference from writing songs in his parents’ basement. His songs are tales of the simple life, fresh and honest and played with care and humility, and often sung in a thick harmonic voice chord by four of the five members. There’s a sense that these songs are everything they should be – everything in it’s right place in lyric, melody and arrangement – an unpretentious kind of perfection.
Both of these bands deliver performances that bring out the very best in their songs and have me scrambling for their albums when I get home. Fleet Foxes might be the ones in the limelight at present with their honest, charming songwriting but it’s the sweet, resonant melancholia of Beach House that reverberates around my memory as I walk out into the spitting summer rain. One thing’s for sure, both of these bands are essential listening for 2008.
Tiger Mountain Peasent Song [Live at London ULU]
Winter White Hymnal [Live at London ULU]
He Doesn’t Know Why [Live at London ULU]
Crayon Angels / Oliver James [Live at London ULU]