Thursday, August 6th, 2009
Fleet Foxes and Dungen at Massey Hall in Toronto
Frank YangWould Robin Pecknold have a guitar strap?
That was really the only burning question in my mind going into Tuesday night’s Fleet Foxes show at Massey Hall in Toronto. The initial one when this show was first announced back in April – could this band who didn’t even play to a full house at the El Mocambo last April in support of Blitzen Trapper now fill a venue as large and storied (to say nothing of expensive) as Massey Hall – was answered by the fact that the 2750-seat hall was completely and utterly sold out, their appeal apparently transcending demographic and generation and drawing young and old, hippies and hipsters, businessmen and alt.bros.
So really, whether or not the 23-year old frontman still preferred to perform seated or if he would deign to stand up and give his fans a good look at him was the only unknown. That, and would they be as good as everyone obviously expected they would be. Certainly, based on the adulation their 2008 self-titled debut received, topping numerous year-end lists, expectations were high. For myself, I didn’t love the record as much as many though it was impossible to not be impressed by the talent and craft that went into it – I just found it was a record I respected more than I adored. Still, the opportunity to see them return to town not as buzzy up-and-comers but bona fide stars was not one I wanted to pass up.
Support on this tour seemed a bit unusual to me, coming in the form of Swedish psychedelic merchants Dungen. My only previous encounter with them was their 2005 album Ta Det Lugnt and re-reading my review, I didn’t appear to be too taken with them. I suspect I’d have had a different opinion if I’d seen them live, however, as their set was a pretty impressive musical slap upside the head. It did start out as the sort of pastoral, folkish-psychedelia I’d remembered but as their set went on, it got more intense and jammed-out like a delayed-effect acid trip. By the end of their 40 minutes, I could fully understand why Fleet Foxes would later declare them to be their favourite band in the world. That was some heady stuff.
Playing a venue like Massey Hall is enough to unnerve any artist, but there was no sense of nervousness amongst Fleet Foxes when they finally ambled out to roaring applause that you’d normally expect for local heroes or the like. And it wasn’t due to a lack of appreciation for the history of the stage on which they stood – the Neil Young between-set mix and historical facts about the building rattled off by Pecknold (courtesy Wikipedia) were proof of that. It was simply confidence that not only did they belong on that stage, but that they’d own it.
And from the opening a capella of “Sun Giant”, they did just that. Their performance was nothing short of amazing, with their pristine four-part harmonies filling every nook and cranny of Massey’s beautiful acoustics. Hearing them sing, it wasn’t a question of whether they could play the room but whether they should ever be allowed to play anywhere else. Their set covered almost their entire recorded output as well as three new songs, one of which featured some unexpected but effective synth textures. Between songs, Pecknold – who was indeed performing upright – made casual and entertaining banter with the audience though it was drummer J Tillman who provided the most comic relief. Again, if these guys were at all nervous about the show, they were hiding it well.
Highlights were difficult to pick out – they pretty much dazzled for the full hour forty-five – but when Pecknold started the encore at the edge of the stage, unplugged and unmiked, to sing traditional folk song “Katie Cruel”, that was easily a moment for the ages. He doesn’t have the biggest voice, necessarily, but given the space and the dead silent audience, it sounded stunning. And while they surely intended to finish with “Blue Ridge Mountains”, as good a note as any to go out on, Toronto – who had waited a long time for them to return – refused to let go and a humbled and appreciative Pecknold came out again for a solo reading of “Meadowlark”. I still can’t say as though I love Fleet Foxes – the whys of that I’m not entirely clear on either – but I am awed by them and their abilities. These are some ungodly talented boys.
Photos: Fleet Foxes, Dungen @ Massey Hall – August 4, 2009
MP3: Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”
MP3: Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”
MP3: Dungen – “Satt Att Se”
Video: Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”
Video: Fleet Foxes – “He Doesn’t Know Why”
Video: Dungen – “Familj”
Video: Dungen – “Festival”
Video: Dungen – “Panda”
Video: Dungen – “Stadsvandringar”
Video: Dungen – “Solen stiger upp”
NPR Wilco is streaming a World Cafe session with Wilco and American Songwriter has finished counting down their top twenty Jeff Tweedy compositions of all-time. Pre-sale for Wilco’s October 14 show at Massey Hall go on sale next Wednesday at 10AM via Front Gate (the show’s not listed yet) and public on-sale is next Friday at 10AM. Oh, and if you’re looking for Wilco and Wilco-related downloads a-plenty, Owl & Bear is your new best friend.
And fellow Monster Of Folk Jim James this week released his debut solo effort as Yim Yames, the George Harrison tribute EP Tribute To. Paste, The New York Times and The Courier-Journal have interviews with James/Yames and the EP is streaming at Spinner.
Stream: Yim Yames / Tribute To