Tuesday, May 3
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Tuesday May 3, 2011 was the most anticipated release date in Sub Pop Records' history. And Fleet Foxes -- the label stars who issued their sophomore LP, Helplessness Blues yesterday -- did more than introduce a rapt hometown audience at the Moore Theatre to one of 2011's most highly-considered albums, it improved upon a batch of songs that is sure to become a mile marker in Seattle music history.
In the jump from the their self-titled LP to Helplessness Blues, the band sharpened the layered harmonies and somber melodies that are at its core. And in the move from the studio to the concert hall, Fleet Foxes expounded upon what they put down on record, hitting not just the right pitches, but adding a propulsion -- a gravitas and thrust of momentum that brought the songs outside of their preciousness confines. Robin Pecknold and company have always been better at articulating the best of Seattle's indie-folk aesthetic than any other band in town. Now they're leaving the genre behind.
The success of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut -- which moved more than 400,000 copies in the U.S. -- inspired a legion of pleasant singers and passable guitarists with an affinity for Leonard Cohen and My Morning Jacket to give the indie-folk thing a try. But there was nothing folkie about Josh Tillman's thundering, melodic drumming that gave direction and fresh purpose to tunes like "White Winter Hymnal" last night. On paper, it seems like a simple task to create a wall of three-part harmonies and layers of acoustic instrumentation, but the felt -- not heard -- reverberations from the upright bass of multi-instrumentalist/recent addition Morgan Henderson and Christian Wargo's spot-on backing vocals put up for close inspection, proved that it's more than a matter of cranking up the volume and enlisting multiple voices: it's knowing when to turn it down, it's picking the right notes, and it's crafting athletic re-imaginations of catalogue favorites ("Mykonos") while also elevating new standouts ("Montezuma").
Cave Singers' lackadaisical opening set provided a tidy case study in what could have happened had Fleet Foxes not indulged their ambition. As Fleet Foxes explore new territory -- while not running from themselves -- Cave Singers sound like they're waiting for something to happen to them. And though Fleet Foxes still cannot boast of recording a song as blissfully intoxicating as their tourmates' 2007 single "Seeds of Night," Cave Singers haven't expounded upon their live show or songwriting since.
Renee McMahon Cave Singers
Perhaps a couple months on the road with the band will inspire Cave Singers to find a way to catch up. It's going to be a long trip if they don't.
BTW: It was Tillman and guitarist Skye Skjelset's birthdays last night. Skjelset gave Tillman what appeared to be a bass drop head with his face drawn on it. The crowd sang happy birthday to the pair twice.
Set List (ht to SetList.fm):
Drops In The River
Sim Sala Bim
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
White Winter Hymnal
He Doesn't Know Why
The Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Blue Ridge Mountains