March 9, 2018
A brittle cold swept through Charlotte on Wednesday night as Fleet Foxes made their return to North Carolina for the first time in seven years. After more than three years on hiatus, the monumental folk band has come to take back the stage, having spent a considerable part of 2017 and most of 2018 touring the United States and Europe. The Seattle trailblazers released one of the most anticipated albums of 2017, and now it was time to see what the band had in store for their first-ever Charlotte performance.
After a brief opening set from Natalie Prass, the Fillmore was set to burst as fans found every available nook and cranny in the venue to squeeze into, spilling beer over one another and scurrying to get the last-minute cigarettes in before the main event. As the tension in the room mounted to a peak, the lights finally came down, and the members of the band shuffled to their positions on stage. Front man and famed singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold found his place at the center, took up his guitar, and paused for a moment. One of the most exciting moments at any concert is that single pulsing second of time before a band begins to play, where anticipation seems insurmountable and everyone waits with bated breath for what’s to come. With Fleet Foxes, that moment was unlike any other performance.
The first notes of Crack-Up’s introductory song “I Am All That I Need” rang out softly, subtly edging the crowd towards the crest that would throw the set into its explosive beginning. As Pecknold’s low, atonal voice floated above the heads of the audience, the air was sucked out of the room, and an incredible silence fell just before the guitars burst into life, strumming violently away and sending the room into a screaming fit. In those first few moments, every single person in that room seemed to be smiling their biggest and brightest grin.
From there, Fleet Foxes had a captivating control on the evening. It was as though their setlist was curated for the purposes of telling a story. They played through a multitude of songs that featured material from each of their records, even Sun Giant, the 2008 EP that preceded their debut self-titled record. The band was backed by a subtle, yet moving visual elements on the backdrop, furthering the emotional connection to the music. With each song, a separate mood was conveyed to the audience, whether it was the light and airy joy that the set began with, or the heavy-hearted melancholy of songs like “Mearcstapa” and “Blue Ridge Mountains.” No matter what the aura of the song was, it flowed evenly with the ones before and after it, as if they were the individual scenes of a movie, perfectly organized to tell a story exactly the right way.
Before long, the emotional tone of the set finally reached its climax with the title track of the latest record, Crack-Up, a six-minute ballad that would’ve made for an impeccable ending, if not for the fact that Fleet Foxes wasn’t quite ready to finish the night. The band left stage for a brief moment, but before long, Pecknold made his return, thanking the audience profusely before playing “Oliver James,” the soulful acoustic anthem that served as the start of a three-song encore. The powerful set came to a penultimate close with the title track of the band’s 2011 record, Helplessness Blues.
As the symphony of melody played on, Pecknold furiously strummed his guitar, and the crowd offered forth one last explosion of energy as a farewell to the folk legends, who departed the stage having given Charlotte a performance that won’t soon be forgotten.