After completing touring for their 2011 sophomore album Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes went on an extended hiatus while frontman Robin Pecknold pursued his undergraduate degree at Columbia University. Pecknold began teasing new material last year on his Instagram account, and in June the band released their third album, Crack-Up, on Nonesuch Records. Touring for the album brought them to Merriweather Post Pavilion last weekend, where they packed the outdoor venue with eager fans despite the rainy day.
The weather, in fact, seemed almost fitting for Fleet Foxes, whose pastoral minor key harmonies often evoke moody scenes. The band opened with the cycle of songs that starts the new album, beginning with “I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar,” which transitions directly into “Cassius, -,“ and from there into “-Naiads, Cassadies.” That trio of slashes, hyphens, and crossfades points directly to an evolution in the band’s sound which was even more apparent live than it is on the record – Fleet Foxes is well on their way to becoming a full-on prog rock band. The prog elements are particularly noticeable on songs like “Mearcstapa,” which appeared later in the set, and the band teased them out even further with extended improvisations in the live setting. It’s a surprising shift from the folky direction of their earlier work to be sure (though there is still plenty of that apparent), but one that seems like a natural evolution upon hearing it.
While the band played most of the new record, including the three singles “Fool’s Errand,” “If You Need To, Keep Time On Me,” and “Third of May/Ōdaigahara,” they also reached back in their catalog to include a good number of tracks from their first two records. 2008’s self-titled debut got the most attention, with seven tracks including “Your Protector,” “He Doesn’t Know Why,” and “White Winter Hymnal.” From Helplessness Blues, the band played “Grown Ocean,” “The Cascades,” “Battery Kinzie,” and “Helplessness Blues/The Shrine.” Despite the extended time off, the core quintet of the band – frontman Robin Pecknold, guitarist Skyler Skjelset, keyboardist Casey Wescott, bassist Christan Wargo, and multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson – are all still present, and were joined for the tour by The Walkmen’s Matt Berrick on drums and, for several songs, by a four-piece horn section.
The show was opened by Baltimore-based experimental pop band Animal Collective, whose upbeat polyrhythmic art rock stood in stark contrast to Fleet Foxes’ sound. The band has released two EPs this year, but only played one track from either of them – “Kinda Bonkers” from The Painters. The rest of the band’s set drew across their catalog, including several tracks from their 2009 album named for the venue, Merriweather Post Pavilion.