Fleet Foxes‘ post-hiatus album Crack-Up not only lives up to the bar set by their previous work, it has the band’s most ambitious, complex music to date. The album goes above and beyond saying “we’re back,” and last night’s show at Prospect Park — their second of two consecutive nights at the outdoor Brooklyn venue — did the same thing. For the Crack-Up songs, they were joined on stage by The Westerlies brass quartet (who also play on the album), expanding the band’s six-piece lineup to ten members. It was a necessary move, given how heavily arranged the new songs are, and it really helped Fleet Foxes put on a larger-than-life show.
They opened the show with just The Westerlies on stage, playing the melody to Crack-Up opener “I Am All That I Need.” And then Fleet Foxes came out and proceeded to begin the set the same way the new album begins, with “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” into “Cassius, -” into “- Naiads, Cassadies.” Right away, they reminded you that they’ve become masters of prog-folk, hardly pausing between songs and switching instruments mid-song without missing a beat. I don’t think Robin Pecknold said a word to the crowd until after their fourth song, “Grown Ocean” (off 2011’s Helplessness Blues). And those opening suites weren’t even the most awe-inspiring moments of the show. Fleet Foxes are a band who really get increasingly into a groove as the show goes on, and it was the back-to-back performances of “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” and “The Shrine / An Argument” towards the end of the set where they really had the crowd in a trance.
“Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” the lead single and centerpiece of the new album, had Fleet Foxes getting louder than I’d ever seen them. Aided by deep red lights flooding the stage and hard-hitting drummer Matt Barrick (of The Walkmen, who Fleet Foxes toured with in 2011 before going on hiatus), they were really locked in, powerful, and taking things to a new level. “The Shrine / An Argument,” the eight-minute Helplessness Blues track that really set the tone for the style they would further explore on Crack-Up, sounds even more massive right next to another song of its kind. It wasn’t until they followed it with the comedown of “Blue Ridge Mountains,” a huge fan favorite off their debut, that it was evident just how far-out the previous 15 minutes of music had been.
The prog side isn’t the only way Fleet Foxes are stretching out on this tour; they’re jammier than ever too. This show came just days after we witnessed a mutual love-fest between Fleet Foxes and Phish, and when Robin asked the crowd who’s been to any shows on Phish’s current MSG run, a lot of people cheered. (I also saw quite a few Phish shirts in the audience.) Those jam-band fans must have been pleased when Fleet Foxes segued the instrumental “The Cascades” seamlessly into “Mearcstapa,” with a transition that created something new right before our eyes.
Fleet Foxes haven’t gone full prog and jam on us though. They’re far from a one-dimensional band, and showed off other sides at the Prospect Park show too. For all the complexity of the new songs, Robin reminded us how powerful he can he sound when he strips it back. He did “Tiger Mountain Peasant” solo, back to back with “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me” with just pianist Casey Wescott joining him. And in the encore, he did “Oliver James” on his own. Fleet Foxes are often known for their harmonies, but Robin can fill that entire park with his own voice.
It was also even clearer in the context of the live set how poppy the first album (and accompanying Sun Giant EP) is in comparison to the latter two. Songs like “Ragged Wood,” “Your Protector,” “He Doesn’t Know Why,” “Mykonos” and the aforementioned “Blue Ridge Mountains” made for uplifting crowd singalongs next to the more cerebral material of the new album. And then of course there was “White Winter Hymnal,” which almost sounded out of place in this setlist, but was not surprisingly a real crowd pleaser.
And it feels impossible to discuss a Fleet Foxes show without addressing that it’s their first tour without drummer Josh Tillman, who’s now at least as famous as Fleet Foxes under the guise of Father John Misty. It’s tempting to say Josh was missed just because of how big Father John Misty has gotten, but his absence really was felt. His voice was noticeably missing from the band’s harmonies, and his wisecracks from behind the drum kit were no more, but most apparent (to me, at least) was that Matt Barrick has a drastically different drumming style. Tillman had this minimal, laid-back style that was as crucial to Fleet Foxes’ unique sound as the vocal harmonies and the mandolin riffs. Barrick is way more of a rock drummer. He’s immensely talented, but his style took a bit away from the softness of the songs on the first album. That said, like I wrote above, he gave the new louder music a backbone that it’s hard to picture Josh Tillman doing. Whichever you prefer, both give Fleet Foxes a distinct twist and the band are able to put on highly impressive shows either way.
Pictures from night two are in the gallery above, including shots of opener (Sandy) Alex G. The setlist (exactly the same as night one) and some videos below.
Fleet Foxes @ Prospect Park – 8/2/17 Setlist
I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar
– Naiads, Cassadies
On Another Ocean (January / June)
He Doesn’t Know Why
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
If You Need To, Keep Time on Me
White Winter Hymnal
Third of May / Ōdaigahara
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Ridge Mountains
photos by Amanda Hatfield