Indie folk rock band Fleet Foxes’ first ever Malaysian concert on Tuesday felt like a show of contrasts.
During the gig at KL Live, Kuala Lumpur, the band – comprising Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset, Casey Wescott, Christian Wargo and Morgan Henderson, who all contribute vocals and play multiple instruments – played a 22-song setlist featuring songs from its three albums.
This made for a fascinating look at just how different the music on each record is, with the songs from the more melodious and folkish Fleet Foxes (2008) and Helplessness Blues (2011) formed a stark contrast to the ones from last year’s more experimental Crack-Up.
Starting at 9pm sharp, after a suitably fitting opening act by local folk band The Impatient Sisters, Fleet Foxes opened with two songs from Crack-Up – I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar and Cassius, –.
As far as concert openers go, this was far from an explosive start, as the more experimental and complex arrangements of the new songs just didn’t seem to translate as well when played live.
In a phone interview conducted with Star2 last November, frontman Pecknold himself described Crack-Up as “really disjointed and fractured”, and that they were still trying to figure out how to best play it live.
Judging from Tuesday’s show, it seems as though the band STILL hasn’t quite worked out how to make its newer material gel with its older ones, and the disjointedness Pecknold mentions was glaringly obvious when heard live.
The contrast between the newer and older material was clear when the band then moved on to Grown Ocean (from Helplessness Blues) and then to arguably its most recognisable hit, the gloriously melodious and uplifting White Winter Hymnal. The simpler and more melodic arrangements of the older songs sound better on the live stage, and somehow, Pecknold’s voice even seemed clearer.
This was evident throughout the show, with songs like Mykonos, Blue Ridge Mountain, Fool’s Errand and He Doesn’t Know Why sounding better and getting a much warmer reception compared to the newer songs.
The quieter moments also stood out most for me, especially when Pecknold performed Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and Oliver James by himself. Fleet Foxes’ lyrics tell some elaborate stories, and this aspect of its music stood out more during those solo sets.
If you were hoping for more interaction between the band and the audience, however, you would have been sorely disappointed. Pecknold’s banter was limited to saying “thank you” and “you guys are incredible” a few times. The rest of the band hardly uttered anything until the encore, when Wargo decided to say a few words about being in Malaysia for the first time.
Don’t get me wrong though – it was still hugely entertaining, thanks to the band’s almost seamless execution of its setlist. The whole show was such a well-oiled production that the band just kept playing song after song after song with minimal interaction amongst themselves. Each member of the band knew exactly what was required of them with each song – in fact, they hardly budged from their designated spots all night.
Anyone familiar with Fleet Foxes’ music would know just how multifaceted and complex their vocal and instrumental arrangements can be.
And for me, the real pleasure of the concert was seeing how all six individual parts came together like a jigsaw falling into place to form one seamless, satisfying show.