The last time Fleet Foxes played in Michigan was September of 2011, to a packed Hill Auditorium. The Walkmen, a band less popular but equally brilliant, opened for them in what was an indie rock dream. Little did we know that, months after this concert, both bands would announce their hiatuses. Our ignorance to this tragic truth was mostly a positive: If we knew this would be one of the last opportunities to see both bands, the mood would have been melancholic instead of uplifting. We all took this show for granted in our unaware joy, expecting to see Fleet Foxes again in maybe two or three years.
But in reality, we would have to wait six years for their return. After their performance last Sunday at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, suffice to say the long wait was worth it.
Alex G and his bandmates took the stage before Fleet Foxes with ease and a carefree attitude, so much so that they never announced their name. This strategy is puzzling to me; why would you not want people to know the name of your band? It was especially a loss because the audience visibly enjoyed their music, with head bobbing and shoulder rocking abound. Regardless of his ill-advised promotional methods, Alex G prepped the audience perfectly with songs off of his most recent album Rocket.
Fleet Foxes was introduced by a jazzy instrumental track over the speakers. As soon as they entered the Masonic’s stage, this music was barely audible over the fans’ uproar. Without hesitation, they strummed the jangly opening of “Arroyo Seco” followed by its spine-chilling harmonies. “Cassius” and “Naiads, Cassadies” followed in a smooth transition mimicking the track order from their recent release Crack-Up.
Fleet Foxes then played older songs like “Grown Ocean” — which was used as a closer on previous tours — and “Ragged Wood.” They did a proper job of combining new material with older fan favorites, like “Blue Ridge Mountains” and “Mykonos.” Their setlist was democratic, almost an even three-way split between their first two albums and Crack-Up.
Around halfway through the set, Robin Pecknold, the band’s frontman and creative powerhouse, performed “If You Need to, Keep Time on Me” and “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” alone with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. Charming, dignified and charismatic, Pecknold is one of the most captivating performers of our time. He acknowledged the audience in between songs and briefly bantered with some fans, though sadly, this ended when a buffoon took it too far and wouldn’t shut the hell up. The drunken idiot ruined the fun for the rest of us and disrespected Pecknold, something that only the worst of humankind could ever even imagine doing.
Fleet Foxes closed with “Helplessness Blues,” a song so grand and powerful that it left me in a mesmerized state of awe. At no point in the night did Pecknold’s vocals faulter; every single aspect of their sound was fine tuned and passionate. Once they returned for their encore, it was obvious what two songs were to come. Pecknold alone returned and sang “Oliver James,” then was accompanied by his bandmates in performing “Crack-Up.”
Their performance was a reminder that they have an immense collection of near-perfect songs. A world with Fleet Foxes is surely better than one without: I left feeling a sense of affirmation, my trust and love returned for the human race.