Fleet Foxes Swap Columbia University for Brixton Academy

Seattle. Early 2000’s. Robin Pecknold meets Skyler Skjelset at school and they bond over a love of Mike Wilson, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

They form a band, and give it a quirky name that people will remember and could lead them to greatness.

The Pineapples are born.

Thankfully they realise that’s a terrible name for a band to be remembered by, and – thanks to another local band having already laid claim to ”The Pineapples” in an almost unfathomable clamour for bad fruit-based band names – they switch to the less terrible “Fleet Foxes”.

Well. It could have been worse. They might have named themselves after an insect. (Didn’t do The Beatles any harm…)

In 2006 the band releases an eponymous EP.

250,000 plays on the world’s largest social networking site Facebook MySpace (remember those simpler times? You should do – it was just nine years ago…) leads to a record deal. They sign to Sub Pop in 2008 – this is a time when Leona Lewis tops the charts, Northern Rock is nationalised and Russell Brand gets into a few difficulties after making a few phone calls to a spanish waiter.

Further members join the band, including Josh Tillman on drums and Christian Wargo.

The folk-tinged, harmonious blend of rock and pop garners almost as much press as the beards and hats the band sport, and after a further EP, Sun Giant, their debut LP is released later that year, with the praise almost as harmonious as the vocals, the album appearing on and even topping many Album of the Year lists.

A second album, Helplessness Blues follows in 2011.

Fleet Foxes were headline material, selling out all over the world. Fame, fortune and celebrity beckoned.

So Robin Pecknold did the only sensible thing, and put the band on hold in order to go to university.

Imagine what Motörhead would have sounded like if Lemmy had decided to do the same thing after he left Hawkwind.

Tillman went solo, not one to hang around, and recorded several ponderous albums before becoming Father John Misty, conquering the indie festival circuit.

It’s now 2017 and the new Fleet Foxes album “Cracked Up” is packed to the gills with literary references, so it’s clear Pecknold did a fair bit of reading during his time at Columbia University. While Pecknold jumped off the tour bus and stuffed his nose into books and became a worldly wise, urbane fox, the cultural folk movement the Fleet Foxes help to create waxed and waned along with the fortunes of Mr Mumford and his sons.

The return of the band that started it all after an absence of six years is thus a welcome return.

Swapping Columbia’s academies for the Brixton variety, Pecknold leads his band through a wide selection of songs from all three albums (and the Sun Giant EP) beginning with the opening tracks from new album “Crack-Up”, moving to “Grown Ocean” and a sprightly “Battery Kinzie” from the second LP, and then a trio from the debut album, to warm applause. It’s fair to say the early tracks, “White Winter Hymnal”, “Ragged Woods” and “Your Protector” are greeted with much enthusiasm, their simple style a contrast to later, more complex songs.

Smooth like Art Garfunkel, Pecknold’s voice remains his secret weapon. He and his band meanwhile display virtuosity on innumerable instruments: flute, brass, percussion, double bass many shapes and size of guitars, played with fingers, plectrums and violin bows. Only a Noel Gallagher style pair of scissors was missing…

But the band take a break to allow Pecknold to play and sing “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” unaccompanied, something echoed in the encore with a lovely “Oliver James”. These are special moments. Despite the multi-instrumental virtuosity of the band, the overriding memory of the night threatens to be a solo Pecknold. Just that voice and his guitar. The patterns and movements of Crack-Up are overwhelmed by a simple song. Then “Third Of May” reminds us the new album has transcendent moments also.

To draw things to a close, “Helplessness Blues” rings out. The Academy is bathed in lush guitar and harmonies before the Foxes take their final bow. They have outlasted both Leona Lewis and David Cameron, if that’s not damning them with faint praise. It’s good to have them back.



Categories: Live Reviews

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2 replies

  1. I love their White Winter Hymnal, and the cover by Pentatonix is beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fleet foxes are one of the few bands that you seem to learn more about with every single listen. This album is an incredible piece of work – lyrical genius combined with unique and haunting vocals – they can honestly do no wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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