Words by: Lindsay Colip | Images by: Steven Walter
Fleet Foxes/Blitzen Trapper :: 04.14.09 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Some things in life just belong together, like Marge and Homer Simpson, Bret Michaels and eyeliner, New Wave and skinny ties. Blitzen Trapper and Fleet Foxes are the latest in perfect compliments as evidenced by this performance at The Fillmore. Both bands, so honored to be sharing the stage with each other, treated the audience to not only two amazing individual sets but also a collective electric grand finale on the last song of the night, "Blue Ridge Mountains." To see them together is magic, a blending of talent and inventiveness not to be missed.
Blitzen Trapper, a sextet from Portland, OR, opened up the show to a packed house. Eric Earley (guitar, vocals), Erik Menteer (guitar, keyboard), Brian Koch (drums, vocals), Michael VanPelt (bass), Drew Laughery (keyboards) and Marty Marquis (guitar, keyboards, vocals) make up the eclectic group that has played together since 2000. Since that time they've been a force to be reckoned with, topping notable charts and getting much critical acclaim with 2007 album Wild Mountain Nation. Their momentum continued by joining forces with progressive indie label Sub Pop Records and releasing their 2008 album, Furr. This wide-ranging album is reason enough to embark on a road trip, hopefully one that takes you out West, deep into forests, alongside winding rivers, perhaps to uncharted territories and paths hardly worn down. "Black River Killer," a dark tale about a serial killer on the loose, prompts you to sleep with one eye open around the campfire, and "Not Your Lover" entices you into dreams where you can embrace your inner "moon-walking cowboy." The title track "Furr" is reminiscent of beloved childhood book Where the Wild Things Are, where an adolescent wanders off into the woods and finds himself living amongst a pack of hairy creatures; in Blitzen Trapper's case it's wolves. It's an album full of twists and turns, delicious stories and great range from bluegrass to folk to rock 'n' roll. To see it come to life on stage was fantastic.
Their live show, which seemed way too short, was much more formidable than I expected. The set list leaned more toward the rock side of their range, performing heavier songs like "Love U" and "War On Machines." They also included pop friendly/sing-along songs "Sleepytime In the Western World" and "Saturday Night." It was nice to see them amp it up, showing off their skills as serious rockers. The crowd was left wanting more and so it came as a nice surprise to see everyone back on stage for the encore with Fleet Foxes.
Blitzen Trapper :: 04.14 :: San Francisco|
Before Fleet Foxes played, they had about 15 minutes on stage to tune their instruments and perform some sort of final sound check that apparently hadn't been done earlier, but all to the benefit of the audience. There was an anxious feeling of getting ready for the big game, an excitement in the air, everyone watching the band diligently for signs of being mortal. At one point, there came a surreal moment when Radiohead's "House of Cards" was playing on the loud speaker at the exact moment Robin Pecknold (lead vocals, guitar) was warming up his voice. It felt like a moment from the future, Pecknold's otherworldly voice synced with Thom Yorke's ethereal masterpiece. The masterpiece feeling continued on when the guys finally took the stage and hit their first piercing note with four-part harmony in perfect unison echoing throughout the venue. Fleet Foxes started out with Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset (lead guitar) loving and playing music while growing up in Kirkland, OR. The best friends teamed up with Christian Wargo (bass, guitar, vocals), Casey Wescott (keys, vocals) and Josh Tillman (drums, vocals) in what I picture might have been some sort of call and response. I imagine Pecknold bellowing long, pure notes out into the wilderness, summoning immaculate, angelic voices to compliment and dance with his own... and voila, the Fleet Foxes arrived.
It seemed appropriate that the stage lights from above cast white rays of light on each band member, giving the impression of being touched by some heavenly source. If there were a gospel according to Fleet Foxes, I wouldn't be the only one convinced. Two-part harmonies send chills up your spine; now add two more voices, all powerful, male voices at that, some subtle reverb and you have goosebumps for days. Not only were their voices much bigger than life but the storytelling lyrics, varied instruments, crazy arrangements and strong stage presences were all there to enjoy. Fleet Foxes have risen to fame rapidly and it's no surprise. The release of their self-titled debut album (see JamBase review here) as well as the Sun Giant EP last year was all they needed to secure a huge fan base and land on the top of many coveted charts. Before signing with Sub Pop, they relied heavily on MySpace and word of mouth, and by the time they played SXSW in 20078 they were an international success (check our rave review of FF at SXSW here).
At live shows, there is usually one band member who steals the show, someone who has amazing presence, someone you can't take your eyes off. Think Slash of Guns N' Roses or Mariqueen Maandig of West Indian Girl. Fleet Foxes, however, has five members that are so fascinating to watch that you have to keep looking around the whole show. They each had a unique demeanor and style and played their varied instruments flawlessly. Supporting cast aside for a moment, frontman Pecknold is truly a wildly gifted musician and performer. He had several moments on stage alone where he absolutely mesmerized the crowd. If "Oliver James" wasn't enough to make you star struck, Pecknold satiated the crowd with a gorgeous new song he was "just dickin' around with" that turned out to be one of the best moments of the night. Another unique moment was when he came to the edge of the stage, without amp, without microphone, and sung over the crowd. If we hadn't already been standing, we would've risen to our feet after that one.
|Skyler Skjelset - Fleet Foxes :: 04.14 :: San Francisco|
More highlights from the night included "Red Squirrel/Sun Rises," "White Winter Hymnal" and "Ragged Wood." All of their songs were crowd-pleasing but these in particular drew the most applause and had the most people agape. Pecknold and company were very interactive with the audience, constantly checking in, giving thanks, praising San Francisco and its vegan restaurant Herbivore for having the most convincing French toast ever.
They also brought attention to and didn't hide the fact that between songs there were several long lulls, minutes in which members of the band were trying to find their right instrument, last minute tuning, etc. that eventually prompted Pecknold to smilingly sing-song, "This is a simulation... of a professional band." If this was a glimpse of an unprofessional band then I only want to see unprofessional bands from now on.
Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper entertained and enlightened the crowd and no doubt have massive careers ahead of them. Hopefully for us, they'll stick close together.
Fleet Foxes tour dates available here. Blitzen Trapper dates here.
Continue reading for a few more pics of Fleet Foxes in San Francisco...
JamBase | Harmonized
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