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From Boston Calling 2018: Fleet Foxes in Bucolic Harmony


As the light faded and the rain came down on the crowd at Boston Calling’s Delta Blue Stage, Fleet Foxes brought a bit of natural beauty to Allston. Aided only by simple yet vibrant animations, the Seattle indie folk band charmed and moved their audience with their acoustic sound and sweet harmonies. Focusing mostly on older songs, their set encouraged singing along, with many near-a capella moments throughout. Lead singer and guitarist Robin Pecknold led the band on a tour of their lyrically dense oeuvre, every song a vocalist’s dream.

Almost immediately upon coming onstage, Fleet Foxes launched into “Grown Ocean,” a rollicking song in which Pecknold dreams of an ideal relationship that breaks into a yearning bridge, begging not to be woken up. Pulled from their second album “Helplessness Blues,” the track features the poetic lyricism and unconventional song structure typical of Fleet Foxes. For instance, the lines from which the song draws its title, “Children grown on the edge of the ocean / Kept like jewelry, kept with devotion,” discuss Pecknold’s vision of fatherhood. They also contain one of the band’s many references to the natural world, which all add to their already bucolic aesthetic.

After “Grown Ocean,” Fleet Foxes played a mix of songs from “Helplessness Blues” and their eponymous debut. Of these, one song received an especially enthusiastic response from the audience: “White Winter Hymnal,” a violent fairytale that offsets its grim content with beautiful imagery of bloody snow resembling summertime strawberries. Another fan-favorite was “Mykonos,” which tells of someone trying to help a friend, only to be rebuffed. Its slides back and forth between simple and complex from verse to verse. One standout example of this are the lines “The door slammed loud and rose up a cloud of dust on us / Footsteps follow down through the hollow sound, torn up,” which describe the aftermath of an argument with unexpected perfection.

Beginning with “Mykonos,” Fleet Foxes explored some of their earliest and latest work, playing songs from their second EP, “Sun Giant,” released in 2008, as well as “Crack Up,” an album that dropped last year. They played two songs back-to-back off of the latter, namely “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” and “If You Need to, Keep Time on Me,” before going back to “Sun Giant” for “Drops In The River.” To close out the show, they did an inspiring rendition of the title track of “Helplessness Blues,” a reflection on growing up and finding one’s path that remains just as relevant, if not more so, than it was when it was released in 2011.

At this point the band left the stage, and the show seemed to be over with time left on the clock. No other non-headliner I had seen at Boston Calling did an encore—in an hour-long set, the few minutes they inevitably take is far too much. This is especially true when, as with Fleet Foxes, many songs approach or break the five-minute mark. Doing so may have caused some confusion or even annoyance in some members of the audience. But Pecknold made sure the encore was worth it.

Pecknold came back alone, armed only with a guitar, and thanked the crowd again (as he had periodically throughout the evening). Without further ado, he strummed the opening chords of “Oliver James.” As on the album, his performance was nearly a capella, except for some picking and slapping on his guitar, showcasing his clear and powerful voice. Unlike the studio version, however, thousands of other voices joined Pecknold’s, and thousands of hands clapped with him. This was Fleet Foxes, stripped down to its core, and as Pecknold howled, “Oliver James, washed in the rain no longer,” the rain kept pattering down on all of us.

—Staff writer Ethan B. Reichsman can be reached at ethan.reichsman@thecrimson.com.

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