There’s always been something mythical about Fleet Foxes’ music; those intricate harmonies and swelling arrangements intertwined with frontman Robin Pecknold’s often-lofty poetry convey intimacy while conjuring up Homeric images of cloudy mountain forests, stormy seas, and some connection to the spirit of the earth long-since forgotten. As such, there’s a risk when bringing their music to the stage that something will get lost in translation. The fact that Fleet Foxes is really just a group of seemingly normal guys could prove discordant with the mythic grandeur of the songs they’re playing, especially when considering how their five-year disappearance has let their music outgrow the faces behind it. At the first show of their North American tour, though, all of those fears melted away as the band brought their music to life with the kind of perfection you might expect and a sense of exploration you might not.
Looking out to sea from the stage of Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine, Robin Pecknold and co. got things off to a relatively slow start. The show opened with the same trio of tracks that open their new record, Crack-Up, with the familiar strum of the acoustic guitar and the group’s unmistakable harmonies washing over the audience and evoking an almost blissful feeling that did more to soothe than it did to excite. That was quickly remedied, however, with a quick transition into “Grown Ocean,” a highlight off their 2011 masterpiece Helplessness Blues, and the pent up love the crowd had for this band was immediately on full display, carrying through into subsequent sing-alongs on “Ragged Wood” and “Your Protector.”
As the sun finally set behind the horizon, the band embraced the coming night with another string of new tracks, this time to far greater success. Aided by some stunning projections and lighting, “Mearcstapa” sent things into a decidedly psychedelic direction; the band merely silhouettes as instruments and voices swirled around each other with dark foreboding.
Something seemed to click during that song and from there on out the performance grew into a stunner. New songs would seamlessly flow into old ones and vice-versa, Pecknold’s vocals showcased an uncharacteristic intensity on passionate renditions of “Mykonos,” “Third of May,” and “The Shrine/An Argument,” and the band grew stronger with each song, providing the latter tune with a thunderous freak-out of an ending and building “Crack-Up” into the kind of massive, glorious closing number this show required.
Robin’s joy at being back in the game was palpable throughout the evening, from the beaming smile on his face as he and the rest of the band took the stage, to the tease of Phish’s “Bouncing Around the Room” he played in response to their cover of “White Winter Hymnal” the night before, to his casual banter with the crowd. In the moments where took the stage by himself, as he did for a rare performance of “Montezuma” to open the encore, you could feel the intimacy in the air; that crackling electricity between him and the audience. The band never quite broke that mythic façade, but gave it a human face, a hero, to lend it an even greater weight.
Undoubtedly, this was a show for the faithful. Fleet Foxes are at the level where they can simply let the songs speak for themselves and bring the audience along with them. But if the journey continues to be this powerful, filled with beauty, darkness, and light, like the sunset that divided the set, then all those who come along for the ride will be reluctant to get off.