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.
I’ll be the first to admit, that when I first heard that Tillman, who’s most recent gig was the drummer/arranger for a little band by the name of Fleet Foxes was releasing a solo album, my interest wasn’t exactly piqued. Not to beat a dead horse, but 2011’s Helplessness Blues was at best a tired exercise in overly beardmotive mountain songs that went nowhere, said nothing, and except for a few moments of sonic beauty (which was to be expected) failed to deliver in every conceivable way. At its worst…well I guess it’s a quick trip to the bottom from there isn’t it?
So color me surprised when upon hearing Fear Fun few weeks ago (read our review here) I found that it wasn’t just good, but that it was everything I had wanted that second Fleet Foxes record to be and more. Fear Fun burst to life with tales of drugs, debauchery, and confessions of insecurity. But instead of being the sexless, dreary affair that was Helplessness Blues, Tillman injected a sense of humanity, humor and confidence deep into the DNA of his songs and in the process turned out one hell of a sexy record, even despite its beirdness.
Kicking off the show Sunday night with the bad-trip/country slow burn of “I’m Writing a Novel”, Tillman and his band proceeded to deliver a truly Thompson-esque performance as refracted through some weird Hollywood lens - or at least some weird literary approximation of it. Fearless and unhinged, Tillman “shook his shit” through nearly every track on Fear Fun, taking longish breaks between each song to engage, or as he said, “understand” the audience.
It’s really challenging not to write a review of Father John Misty’s (ex-drummer of the Fleet-Foxes) debut album Fear Fun as if it was a Dennis Wilson solo record. References to the “Canyon” and “Malibu” certainly evoke his life story. That’s not to say the songs aren’t great. But if he wore his inspirations any more on his sleeves, he would have cufflinks with Charles Manson’s grin on them.
This is a moving-to-Los Angeles record. Not the Los Angeles of Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction, of the Sunset Strip and heroin, lots of jack, Cantor’s in the small hours of the morning, then have a stroke after one too many speedballs. Instead, it’s the soft, hazy Los Angeles of canyons, beaches, and smog-painted sunsets, along with copious amounts of pot, and not a small amount of sadness.
J. Tillman has a voice that is warm, assured while still vulnerable. He surrounds that voice with a fairly spare and quiet accompaniment. While there are pianos, acoustic guitars and percussion, none of them assert themselves very much. Despite all the instrumentation he might as well as be singing a cappella somewhere off Topanga Canyon.
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...
Three years is a long time.
In today’s world of blink-and-you’ll-miss- it attention spans, it can be career suicide for a band not to produce in three years. But that’s how long it took Fleet Foxes to make Helplessness Blues.
Across the board, anticipation for this release was high. The band’s first three efforts, the EPs Fleet Foxes and Sun Giant, released in 2006 and 2008, along with their self-titled full length, also released in 2008, established the band as strong—sometimes even brilliant—songsmiths. And that’s not even touching on the harmonies they create. Oh, those harmonies. There still isn’t anyone who is quite achieving what the band is vocally. If there is one thing that you’ll ALWAYS be able to say about Fleet Foxes, it’s ,“Goddamn those boys can sing!” But you know that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. So I’ll just get to the task at hand. Was it worth the wait...
This week it's all about the big guys right above. Sure there's a release from the Blind Boys of Alabama. Sure there's the double 80's whammy of Richard Marx AND Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina and the Waves fame) releasing albums this week. THAT wasn't supposed to be happening until December 2012! And SURE, to top it all of you've even got a new release from hardcore legends Dwarves. But in the end it's all about The Beastie Boys and Fleet Foxes. We'll be reviewing both of those by the end of the week, and I apologize to the guys in Fleet Foxes in advance because I'm sure they are really nice people.
Actually, I lied. Not about apologizing. Still mean that. I lied about what is ACTUALLY going on this week in music.
Pretty sure that Stevie Nicks just crushed and snorted that poor unicorns horn.
That just makes me all happy and uncomfortable all at once.
Here's your list:
Artist: - Title
Priscilla Ahn - When You Grow Up
Karrin Allyson (Grammy-nominated vocalist and pianist) - Round Midnight
Architecture in Helsinki - Moment Bends
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
Blind Boys of Alabama - Take the High Road
Brandi Carlile - Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony
Country Mice - Twister
Destry - Waiting On an Island
dredg - Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy
Dwarves - The Dwarves Are Born Again
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Aretha Franklin - A Woman Falling Out of Love
Mick Harvey - Sketches From the Book of the Dead
Have Nots (Boston ska/punk rockers) - Proud
Hyland - Weights & Measures
Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina and The Waves) - Spiritualize
Jennifer Lopez - LOVE?
Richard Marx - Stories to Tell
Musiq Soulchild - MUSIQINTHEMAGIQ
Tara Nevins (of Donna the Buffalo) - Wood and Stone
Stevie Nicks - In Your Dreams
Donny & Marie Osmond - Donny & Marie
Kelly Price - Kelly
RuPaul - Glamazon
Sixx:A.M. - This Is Gonna Hurt
Skindred - Union Black
Sounds Under Radio (Austin rock group) - Where My Communist Heart Meets My Capitalist Mind
Heidi Spencer & the Rare Birds - Under Streetlight Glow
Doug Stanhope - OSLO — Burning the Bridge of Nowhere
Title Fight - Shed
Twin Atlantic - Free
Uriah Heep - Into the Wild
Various artists - No Future: A Tribute to the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned
Various artists - Wonderland [Original Broadway cast recording]
The Wave Pictures- Beer in the Breakers