I’m a photographer, not a writer. I’m also dyslexic. Writing more than a paragraph or two is something that takes much conscious energy and effort, not to mention proof-reading. I’m usually happy to take my pictures, post them on flicker and thecolorawesome.com and call it a day. However, there are some concerts that really move me to try and write. Fleet Foxes at The Fox is one of these shows.
I’ve watched the Fleet Foxes meteoric rise over the past year with a great deal of curiosity and enthusiasm. I feel grateful to have been able to attend and document five of their last six Bay Area appearances. I first saw the Fleet Foxes live at Bottom of The Hill almost a year ago. I was completely hooked. I stand by my original review, “The kind of vulnerability and openness that Robin Pecknold exhibited on stage is a joyous and beautiful sight to behold.”
Bottom of The Hill is intimate and tiny, with a capacity of 276. At that first show, I watched and photographed atop a subwoofer on the right side of the stage, a mere three feet from lead singer Robin Pecknold. Over the past year I’ve watched with admiration and a bit of motherly pride as the band has managed to keep their soul and spirit intact while showcasing their performances at ever larger venues: The Independent (500) and Treasure Island last summer, The Fillmore (1200) and Palace of Fine Arts last week, and now the Fox (3000).
I almost didn’t get to shoot or even see this show at the Fox. My normal source of photopasses fell through, but I was motivated enough to forge out on my own. Aja Pecknold, the band’s manager, was able to arranging a photo pass for this newly independent photographer. Props to Aja for the pass!
The evening of the show I thought I had all my ducks in a row. I’d arranged for childcare, I’d borrowed an extra 70-200 lens, I’d remembered to charge my batteries. Props to Carl for watching the kids! Props to Scott for the Lens!
All seemed well until I had a sudden surge of anxiety as I started over the Dumbarton bridge, a half an hour into my journey. I panicked as I suddenly realized that I’d left all my camera batteries charging at home. It was already 7:20 and the show started right at 8. If I had to return all the way home, it would add an extra hour to my journey and I’d surely miss openers Blitzen Trapper. Luckily, I’ve got an extremely accommodating husband, that dropped everything (including the kids!) and met me half way with the camera batteries. Props to Carl for the battery dash!
OK, batteries acquired, and I’m back on track within a half an hour. It’s frustrating, but well worth it in the end; This delay placed me in the middle of the most expansive and beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen from the middle of the San Francisco bay as I raced east to the Fox.
I made it to the venue by 8:30, and was sure I’d be able to catch at least half of the Blitzen Trapper set. Fortunately, my photo pass was there as promised. Unfortunately, my ticket (purchased online months ago) was nowhere to be found. As I wondered if I’d be better off just giving up and buying another ticket, a manager stopped by and walked me in a side door since I had a photo pass. Props to the venue manager for saving me $25!
I managed to make it in for the last two songs from Blitzen Trapper. While that’s hardly enough material for me to make a complete performance review, I really liked the small bit I got to see. Also, I was completely dumbstruck by the beauty of the Bay Area’s newest concert venue. I’d read that the Fox was to be Another Planet Entertainment’s premiere venue in the US, and I now understand why. The Fox Theater is drop-dead gorgeous, as well as being completely user-friendly with great sound. The ground floor is general admission and has four tiered levels, providing great views from all locations. There’s even a VIP and disabled access section near the soundboard. Props to ELS Architects for a great design!
While nothing beats watching a show within arms reach of the band, I’m completely impressed with the way the band’s show translates to a 3,000 seat venue like the Fox. The band came on stage about 10 minutes before the performance and started tuning their instruments. They left the stage briefly, the lights dimmed, the cheers erupted and the show began.
Robin took a moment to look about and soak the moment in. I was in the second row of people, about 10 feet left of center stage, close enough to see the awe and wonder in his eyes as he gazed about, clearly humbled even more than usual, if that’s even possible. They opened with “Sun Giant/Sun Rises” as they often do, with shimmering four-part harmonies. I have no memory for ordered lists (I’m dyslexic, remember?) so I really couldn’t tell you what came next, or exactly what they covered in their set. I do know they played two new songs, “Silver City” (“It’s not done, we’re just dickin’ around with it”), and another song Robin sang solo.
The highlight for me was when Robin decided to “break down the fourth wall” as he described it at the Palace of Fine Arts show the week before. At that small San Francisco show he’d abandoned his amp and mic at the small 500 seat venue and walked to the very lip of the huge stage. He then proceeded to sing from his soul under a single white spotlight with no amplification whatsoever. When it was clear to me that he planned to do the same at the Fox, my first reaction was “Oh no! What are you thinking? It’s too big here – it’ll never work!”
Fortunately the man knows more than I when it comes to the strength and carry of his voice, and the ability of a huge Fleet Foxes audience to remain completely silent. Thousands of us watched memorized in hushed stillness as Robin sang and strummed “Katie Cruel” with no amplification or microphone. Despite being many decibels softer than the PA volume, I heard every word and guitar riff from the front of the upper balcony. Props to Robin, for having the confidence and voice to pull this off!
So far, I’ve gushed about lead singer Robin Pecknold, but the rest of the band is just as impressive. The Fleet Foxes line-up is something of a Seattle supergroup. Casey Wescott, 28, is a multi-instrumentalist who was a member of the band Seldom; the bassist, Christian Wargo, 32, releases his own songs as Crystal Skulls; drummer, Joshua Tillman, 27, has five solo LPs under his belt. They harmonize so well together, I think it must be a testament to the bonds of their friendship For such a young band, their friendships and family ties run long and deep. Skye and Robin have played together since they were 13. And Pecknold’s family is hugely supportive of his music: his dad was in the 1960s Seattle band the Fathoms and builds guitars as a hobby; the band’s manager is his sister, Aja; his elder brother, Sean, makes the ethereal and beautiful Fleet Foxes’ videos. I’m not sure if mom, Lisa, has an official role. But if she’s a mom like my mom taught me to be, I have one thing to say as Mother’s day approaches. Props to Lisa for the results of your mothering!
After a multi-song encore that began with Robin solo and ended in a full-on Blitzen Trapper-Fleet Foxes collaboration, the bands waved a friendly goodbye. Robin thanked us all, and exclaimed, “This has been our best show ever!” I’m certainly not going to argue with that.