Music Features

Fleet Foxes: Live at Sheffield University

My greatest regret of the year, with regard to No Ripcord at least, is publishing a relatively lukewarm 7/10 review of Fleet Foxes' début album. If any record deserved the perfect ten this year, and we've awarded two such ratings, Fleet Foxes was it.

The widely acclaimed Seattle band has channelled its classic influences, some of which (sacred harp singing, CSNY) aren't commonly considered fashionable, into a unique and timeless sound. Though frequently compared to many of the 60s artists that creative leader Robin Pecknold grew up worshipping, to my ears Fleet Foxes' music rarely sounds like anything but Fleet Foxes. That the band achieves this singularity without being particularly experimental in its approach to songwriting is a testament to the strength of its soaring harmonies and, most vitally, Pecknold's amazing voice. It's no exaggeration to say that in fifty years time, this young man will be regarded as one of the greats.

It's October 29th, a cold Wednesday night in Sheffield, and the university's Foundry venue is the latest stop on Fleet Foxes' UK tour. I can scarcely recall being this excited about a show in a long time; looked around, it seems I'm not the only one who's looking forward to this sold out show. The venue is packed to the rafters and there's a genuine buzz, a palpable sense of expectation.

As they file quietly onto the stage, however, the five members of Fleet Foxes look anything but thrilled to be here. Initially, there's not a smile in sight, but after a slightly awkward minute or two of additional tuning, the band confidently begins the a capella Sun Giant and suddenly the room is literally full of them. With the exception of the solitary clean-shaven member, guitarist Skye Skjelset, who doesn't sing a note all night, the band is literally belting this one out, and it sounds spectacular. Pitch perfect. And this is Fleet Foxes warming up? An equally impressive rendition of Sun It Rises follows, sans the 'Red Squirrel' intro, and the evening's entertainment is officially under way.

English House gets a great reception and it becomes apparent that tonight's packed crowd are not casual onlookers but rabid fans who've clearly devoured both Fleet Foxes and the companion EP, Sun Giant. Later on, some members of the audience (not me, of course, I'm far too reserved...) are literally punching their fists into the air and screaming out the words to Mykonos, of all tracks. It's a great sight, and Pecknold et al, perhaps realising that they're amongst friends, soon begin to warm up and begin to engage the crowd. The bearded frontman looks aghast as an audience member explains that university students don't get discount for shows at their own venue. He also fails to comprehend the South Yorkshire housing market, and along with the rest of the band, indulges in the continuation of a Led Zeppelin joke which was started earlier in the evening by drummer, backing vocalist and, for the duration of this tour, support act, J. Tillman (whose short opening set was excellent, by the way). They might look like a bunch of perma-stoned hippies, but, in the world of Fleet Foxes, appearances can be deceptive.

I could easily devote another 500 words to the discussion of set highlights, but it would probably end up reading like an annotated set list. The band's catalogue is pretty evenly balanced in terms of quality, after all, and tonight everything sounds pretty much stellar, from the gigantic recent single White Winter Hymnal right through to the solo Pecknold renditions of Tiger Mountain Peasant Song and the intimate Oliver James. Your Protector is a big personal favourite of mine, and as those angelic voices launch into its climactic chorus, the sensation is literally spine tingling. For me, this single moment is the most satisfying live music experience of 2008, and I've seen some pretty fantastic shows this year (Bon Iver, My Bloody Valentine twice). Yes, you read that right, it's even better than the famed noise freakout of You Made Me Realise.

So remember, you read it here last: Fleet Foxes – 2008's greatest band.