Pitchfork Music Festival 2011, Saturday: Fleet Foxes
The youngest band yet to headline Pitchfork fest, Fleet Foxes in the top slot isn't unlike Phoenix at Lollapalooza last year. Think of this centerpiece set as a comment on the dwindling pool of acts able to sustain a large audience in the MP3 age, especially given the tastemakers over at Pitchfork and their incessant coverage of dime-a-dozen electronic acts and bands for whom press photos seem like more of a priority than, y'know, songwriting. Just having an acoustic act at the top of the bill was remarkable, let alone one that could fill Union Park the way this Pacific Northwest outfit did.
There's the question of why the festival chose to limit the entertainment to one stage. In years past, clubbier acts have kept what's now the blue stage warm well until 10pm, but the lack thereof played out in the Foxes' favor obviously. It's hard to imagine their unplugged epics going over well against any other act that was even remotely amplified. Frontman Robin Pecknold admitted as much at one point. "We played here three years ago, it was super fun," he allowed, going on to explain how their set overlapped with Dizzee Rascal, who apparently didn't take kindly to it. "Fuck that folk shit," Pecknold remembered the U.K. grime MC saying, shrugging it off and clearly not taking it personally. The singer-guitarist's casual demeanor is encouraging for anyone fed up with over-the-top Lady Gaga–style showmanship, and from what I can tell, it's sincere. He was easy to spot among the crowd yesterday, taking the scene in like any other concertgoer, gamely posing for a TOC portrait.
That's worth noting in context. Spin had already anointed this year's Helplessness Blues "The year's most beautiful album" by its April issue. Here the Sub Pop sextet is just five years into a budding career and at critical peak not just with the indie set represented here, but the XRT and NPR audiences as well. That's not to say the new album is without its flaws, almost too precious at times, lacking the hooks of its 2008 self-titled breakout. Newer songs performed here like "Sim Sala Bim," "Lorelai" and "The Shrine/An Argument" were strong, but hearing the band do an older tune like "Mykonos," which reaches for those CSN heights with ornate anthemic folk arrangements, simply brought the show to another level. Live, those harmonies are no joke. And while the nearly 90-minute show may have lacked a little in the way of spontaneity, it can be seen in a broader context as a rite of passage. For those of us a generation or two removed from Woodstock, this is the closest we might ever get.