Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
At first blush, the marquee billing for the Animal Collective/Fleet Foxes show at the Mann Center last night confused me: Animal Collective was the opening act? The experimental trance-pop band that made their name with mesmerizing collections of psychotropic anti-folk like Sung Tongs (2004) and Feels (2005) couldn’t be an opening act. They were too revolutionary and exciting. Unfortunately, though, the keyword here is were. It’s a pretty human thing to hold on to the past. Damn memory and everything. But, jesus, I knew better. I’d listened to Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) and heard a shift in the band from a group of bright, creative friends organically expressing their collective id to a handful of professional musicians doing their jobs, massaging their individual egos. And that’s exactly what I saw at the Mann Center last night. Animal Collective’s performance was rote and dull, a reminder that their best days as a group are behind them.
After AC’s set, I was resigned to sit back and enjoy the breeze, maybe find a spot to sit with a view of the skyline, but when Fleet Foxes came on stage they shook me out of my disillusioned stupor. Blood red lights illuminated the backdrop of the stage, turning the six performers into silhouettes in a Dante-esque inferno. Like I said, I’d gone to the show more for Animal Collective, and prior to last night my impression of Fleet Foxes was of a vanilla choral band that subsisted on major key harmonies, perfect for naptime at progressive preschools. But just minutes out of the gate, they’d disabused me of that impression with a feral energy fueled by a collective urge to express, channeled through Robin Pecknold’s almost obnoxiously perfect vocals. He sipped tea throughout the evening, ensuring the health of his vocal chords, which basically didn’t miss a note all night.
I was impressed by the clarity and delivery of his voice, but wasn’t shocked that it sounded every bit as good live as it does on the recordings. What did surprise me, though, was that Fleet Foxes weren’t vanilla at all. Don’t be fooled by the drop-dead gorgeous harmonies — one part Pet Sounds, one part Gregorian chant — they have edge. Loud as fuck, their clangorous chord progressions and whiplash key changes can be as tumultuous as shifting seismic plates. It’s as if The Beach Boys left the sandbox and retreated into the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, conjuring woodland reveries about eternal, elemental things — sun, giants, oceans, wood smoke, strawberries in summertime.
About halfway into the set, the rest of the performers left Robin Pecknold alone on stage to croon and howl to the moon armed with nothing more than his acoustic guitar and perfect pitch. The audience ululated with delight, not even able to hold their applause until the ends of the songs, no doubt rendered giddy by the persistent fragrance of combusted cannabis wafting down from the lawn. When the rest of the band returned, a duo of women who’d been dancing the whole night screamed out an invitation to Pecknold to set up house and make little baby foxes with them. Fox babies? Without missing a beat, he suggested they adopt and see how it goes. — DILLON ALEXANDER