Fleet Foxes in Cork

I remember a time, just about 6 years ago (bear with me on this, it won't take long). It was the Electric Picnic Festival in September 2005. I was attending largely because of one band, Arcade Fire, whose first album Funeral had spent most of that year on repeat at my house, and whose uplifting anthems (or are they anti-anthems) I was very much looking forward to seeing and hearing in the flesh. Of course, I wasn't alone. In fact, at least 5,000 other people had exactly the same idea as me and crammed into the large tent for one of the most anticipated Irish gigs of recent times. Now, I'm not a great one for crowds, in the sense of feeling at one with that many other people in a confined space. I'm a bit too cynical, maybe. I'm happy to share the moment with a few close friends, but beyond that... However as the band came on stage and played through Rebellion (Lies), Wake up, Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) et al, I felt myself surfing a genuine wave of emotion, a wave held up by everyone else in the tent. I had the dreaded feeling of being at one with all 5,000 of these strangers (many of whom might also have been fans of The Frames, who knows). Despite myself, I had to accept the bond, the wave, the kinship. I had to keep a lid on my cynicism and just sing along, like I knew I wanted to. I had to admit that Arcade Fire were not just "my band", I had to share them with loads of other people. It was a moment of culture, a shared, communal experience.

What does this have to do with Fleet Foxes? Last Sunday night I attended a gig by another North American band in another similar-sized tent, The Marquee located at the Docklands in Cork. Like 2005, when I looked around the crowd I thought to myself, "I'm not sure I have a lot in common with these people". Like Funeral, the first Fleet Foxes album has had plenty of air at UOH Headquarters over the last few years (their just-released second album, Helplessnes Blues, will soon follow suit, I'm fairly sure), their impeccably arranged folk-rock songs being belted out of car windows, living room windows, all kinds of windows. And just like 2005, when the band started playing, the dreaded communal bond came over the room. It was emotional. You'll get a taste of it from this video of Your protector, courtesy of genkisparkle.

It was one special gig. Funnily enough, it struck me, Fleet Foxes are not really a band with charisma. There's no between-song banter to speak of. Robin Pecknold generally just looks down and tunes his guitar, mumbles a thank you and counts in the next song. Which is kind of refreshing in one way. Especially when the songs are that good. And with the flawless live sound on the night, every nuance was conveyed. It didn't get any better than their version of this, from the new album.

P.S. By the way, I haven't seen desert boots since, I don't know, about 1988. As if to underline the complete lack of pretentiousness about this band.

*Special mention also for Owen Pallett, who played beforehand (violin, and very very well). Staggering musicianship, a beautiful lilting voice, a shade of electro-pop and some brilliantly unexpected motorik - you say krautrock, I say tomato - drumbeats.


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