WEIRD BEARD: Robin Pecknold, Fleet Foxes, Electric Factory, Last Night [Photo by TIFFANY YOON]
1. On a late July night in Philly, the Great Unwashed takes on a whole new meaning in the sticky, crowded Electric Factory. As the metal ceiling fans squeak futilely overhead, I’m hemmed in by Cousin-It-with-a-perm and a fresh-faced young fellow, no more than 17, who seems blissfully unaware that his T-shirt logo is imagery from the Third Reich.
2. Blue Öyster Cult had more than one album; more than one song, for that matter. When opening act Espers—Philly’s sleepy freak-folk celebs of choice—announce that they’re about to do a BÕC cover, calls for the cowbell are silenced by an admonishment from the band that no, they shall NOT be doing “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” “Come on, don’t you people know the first three records?” the band asks before launching into “Flaming Telepaths” from 1974’s Secret Treaties. Prompting the overgrown crowd of tall, lanky, underage indie boys to ask: “What are records?”
3. Fleet Foxes is a rock ‘n’ roll band. You might not guess it from the first half of the set, but “Ragged Wood” finds drummer Josh Tillman—who, though he blends in well with all the other beards, could easily pass for Jesus on open mic night at the Vatican —unleashed behind the kit, proving they’re not too precious to bring the rock when necessary. Soon after, they turn “Your Protector” into pure rock anthem, with deep tom-tom hits and a cavernous reverb that creates a wall of sound 20 feet thick.
4. Three or four songs in, the inescapable feeling that Fleet Foxes might be a bit of a one-trick pony starts to creep in. They do soft, near-flawless four-part harmonies rarely seen since the Beach Boys, but those harmonies are typically laid atop serviceable folk melodies—no more, no less. But then a crescendo begins to grow. Six or seven songs in, the vocal layers grow more complex and the arrangements more ambitious, and you realize that even if they are a one-trick pony, it’s one hell of a trick.
5. In a unique way, Fleet Foxes seem like genuinely nice guys. There’s none of the standoffish posturing, too-cool indie vibe or bloated rock-star ego. Lead singer Robin Pecknold spends most of the night drinking hot tea to nurse a strained voice, and the banter between him and his bandmates —and him and the crowd—isn’t forced-to-be-clever or overly terse. It’s just warm, making everyone want to go hang out backstage and keep refilling his tea. After just a few short minutes waiting for an encore, he comes out and apologizes, “Sorry that took so long. I was gargling saltwater.” Think Blue Öyster Cult ever apologized for anything? Never, not even for the cowbell. — JEFF BARG
HERE WE GO MAGIC: Tunnelvision
JUST ANNOUNCED: At the TLA September 23rd with The Walkmen.