As the Fleet Foxes prepared to take the stage of the largest concert hall in Washington DC, where all 3,702 seats had been sold months before, they probably noticed the dramatic increase in size and feel of the space compared to their last sold out performance at the 1,200 person 930 club. And the differences between DAR Constitution Hall and the 930 club couldn't be any more dramatic, but, based on the early sell out of the show, maybe DAR still isn’t big enough for these guys? I went into the show hoping this larger venue wouldn’t have any effect on the energy and experience I have had before at a Fleet Foxes concert, and as the seats began to fill, and the house lights dimmed, I kept my fingers crossed.
If you are reading this you already know that DAMN, these guys can sing. Whether you've seen them live before or this was your first time, no one can deny that the Fleet Foxes greatest strength is their ability to recreate the sounds, both instrumentation and particularly vocally, that you have heard so many times on record. And Sunday night was no exception to their many previous performances in the capitol over the past 3 years. As they worked their way through their 90 minute set, pulling songs from all releases, you could hear the attention they take in recreating every detail with precision. Everything down to the 30 second avant-garde noise sax solo in “The Shrine/An Argument” was played. So you can’t argue the songs are simply studio magic. But it was around this time that I realized this attention to detail may have become a double edged sword for the band. Because once you get past showing me you can actually play the songs you've recorded, you’ve got to show me what kind of energy you can bring to the live show.
Even when the band threw a little spice on songs like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” by adding drums (which was a good addition by the way), or when they would occasionally transition quickly from one song to the next, the energy of the room still remained fairly flat. Even during well played, upbeat tunes like “Ragged Wood”, “Grown Ocean”, and “Mykonos”, only a small rustling could be seen in the seated crowd. Maybe this DC crowd just wasn’t interested in reciprocating this energy?
Besides the handful of people standing or swaying around the edges of the hall floor, by about three quarters of the way through the show, you could look around and see that the majority of the 3,700 fans in attendance had sunk further and further into their seats floor (I even had to step over peoples legs that were stretched out in the aisles). So by when that noise/sax solo came in the middle of “The Shrine/An Argument”, it was, just as it is on the album, somewhat of a wakeup call. But, hey, the Fleet Foxes sound is pretty soothing, and it is great to sit back, close your eyes, and take it all in. Especially during songs like “Oliver James” and “Montezuma”.
And maybe that’s all the fans really wanted. Just to sit in their seats and be entertained. But I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t on my couch listening to the album, I was at a concert. And it sure didn't feel like the Fleet Foxes concerts I remembered.
So it wasn’t until the final encore, “Helplessness Blues”, that the crowd rose to its feet. You could feel the energy of the room change, as if now the crowd was ready. But it was just in time to clap the band off the stage and then walk out the door.
You hear so many groups talk about the importance of the band/audience interaction, and it’s clearly important to the Fleet Foxes. But even as the band kept a light hearted tone with banter between songs about tuning and shout outs to friends in the audience, the whole situation had a sense of awkwardness to it. It could just be my memories of the energy they created at The Black Cat and The 930 Club getting in the way, or maybe it was just that those venues are better suited for a band like this. To be completely honest, DAR just does this to people. Yes, it’s the biggest venue in the city, but it’s also the most sterile, and it’s always a disappointment to see a band you love to make the jump to this venue. Very few bands pull the transition off and more often than not it’s not even their fault.
All I can say is that I hope the Foxes consider this night, more-so the crowd than their performance as they continue to move to larger and larger venues. They are now at a point in their career where it is starting to not be enough to just recreate what they do on the record. We know that they can do that. They now need to create a show that will make even the people of DC get on their feet, because being able to do that is the difference between listening to an album and going to a show. Sometimes that can be quite a task, but I really hope and believe the Fleet Foxes are up for the challenge.