By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director
The experience of a concert isn’t just for the fans, it’s for the band too.
After driving eight and half hours from Denver, I parked my butt in the oddly short line waiting in front of The Midland in Kansas City to see my favorite band of all time, Fleet Foxes. I half expected the line to go around the block, as I had only gotten there an hour and a half before doors. (Surely more people had to be just as excited as me to see the band’s first tour after a six-year hiatus). Looking down the tiny line of well dressed, hip young bucks, I tried desperately to get somebody to talk to me to make the time pass at least a little bit quicker.
Finally, after what seemed like a decade, the doors opened. However, a man emerged and walked down the line saying that if you held an Arvest Bank credit card, you could jump the line. I did not drive all morning and sit amongst a sea of disgustingly boring people to get cut in line by the demands of capitalism! Anyway, not many people moved and I made my way inside.
The theatre was beautiful. The carpet was flaming red and the walls looked like seamless marble. As I made my way to the main floor, I stood front and center, second row. Looking up to the ceiling, it reminded me of the Sistine Chapel. Stained glass and biblical-looking paintings shined beside the intricate crown molding that covered every nook and cranny. The stage set up was equally as pleasing. A backdrop taken from what looked like the “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” music video was projected against the red curtains. Geometrically shaped light fixtures sat behind the band’s equipment.
To make matters even better, the opening band was (Sandy) Alex G. (Talk about a dang gig!!!!) Alex and his band came out at 8:00 p.m. and gave a FANTASTIC opening set. Most of the songs he played were off of his 2017 release, Rocket, including “Sportstar,” “Proud,” and “Bobby.” Unfortunately, he didn’t play “Powerful Man” or “Mary” – Two of my favorites. What was even more depressing was that the crowd just stood there. In fact, the only moving anyone did was to turn their heads to shoot their friends a “What the heck is this?” look.
I’m not sure what I really expected of Fleet Foxes fans, but it shocked me that it seemed like nobody was into it. I shook off the strange vibe from the crowd and figured everyone’s aura would change as soon as Fleet Foxes stepped foot on stage. As I waited impatiently, I felt my heart beating faster and faster. I couldn’t tell if it was because I was about to see my favorite band after six years or the fact that I had consumed about three cups of coffee earlier.
Fleet Foxes emerged from stage right exactly at 9:00. The geometric lights came on and the backdrop began showing the merging and separation of other various geometric shapes. An eruption roared from crowd and frontman, Robin Pecknold waved and went right into “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco”. It was a rather dull opener – not that the song is bad, but it was a strange pick as opposed to something more accessible. I looked around at the people surrounding me and it was like somebody dropped a bomb in the room that somehow made their energy vanish – Nobody was singing.
The band then went into “Cassius, -” and “- Naiads, Cassadies”. After the first three tracks, the band played a few from their self-titled and Helplessness Blues. Then, out of nowhere, Fleet Foxes played their only instrumental-only track, “The Cascades”. Images of ice forming and melting on pine-cones appeared on the screen behind them. The water bottles on the stool next to Pecknold looked like they were crystallizing as the tantalizing sound of strings filled the auditorium. The reality of the band’s most stunningly beautiful instrumentation almost overtook me, however, the crowd still just stood there; Some of them on their phones – not taking pictures, but literally texting. Is this why Josh Tillman left Fleet Foxes? Because if that’s the case, dude – I get it.
The lack of energy at this show wasn’t the band’s fault what-so-ever. The crowd just sucked. I, myself, was having the time of my life. I was singing every single word to every single song, swaying back and forth with tears welling up in my eyes, but people around me started to become fed-up with my pure bliss. Two six-foot tall men in the front row (that did not know a single Fleet Foxes song, mind you) tried SO HARD to block my view after a while. (I’m sorry, but don’t stand in the front row if you don’t absolutely love the band. That’s just common show courtesy. If you decide to do it anyway, expect that super fans are going to be happy and excited to see them.)
It was then that Robin Pecknold acknowledged my saving grace: Frat boys double fisting Four Lokos. (Never thought I’d say that). A chuckle came from him on stage as a group of out-of-place-looking men screamed their undying love for him. I made the quick decision to give up my second-row spot and join them six rows back. I marched back there, almost angrily and said, “You guys look like you’re having the time of your lives, so I’m gonna join you.” Immediately, I was smothered in unsolicited hugs and fist pumps. I didn’t mind one bit. Actually, I was relieved. This show was about to get interesting.
Now let me tell you – these dudes were not just your average frat boys. These were frat boys that LOVED Fleet Foxes. I was no longer the only one screaming along to every song, no matter if it was new or old. After every track, we all looked at each other, sobbed, and made comments on their outstanding musicianship. (The percussionist played high hat with his elbow whilst playing the trumpet, for God’s sake). Between the band’s frequent instrument swaps and scrambling on stage, we never ran out of things be overwhelmed with.
“If You Need to, Keep Time on Me” showcased Pecknold’s most astounding vocals. “On Another Ocean (January / June)” kept Mulatu Astatke‘s sample, “Tezeta (Nostalgia)”. “Mykonos” accentuated the band’s energy and nostalgia, as they still played it like they had recorded it yesterday instead of nine years ago. During “The Shrine / An Argument” the lot of us grabbed each other’s shoulders and waists and just swung in time until Morgan Henderson brought out the bass clarinet where we let go of one another and let the music take us where it wanted us to go. Fleet Foxes ended their set with “Helplessness Blues” and returned to encore with “Oliver James” and Crack-Up”. Every track was met with something to remember and not a single corner was cut.
After the show, my new friends and I wandered around Kansas City, sharing cigarettes and final thoughts. All of a sudden, we turned a corner and there was the band’s tour bus – And lo and behold, the entirety of Fleet Foxes standing outside of it. After we freaked out for a solid three minutes and scrambled to tell them how much their set meant to us, we calmed down enough to actually have a small conversation with them and take a few pictures.
The most gratifying thing in the world is to tell the band that helped you through the most shit that they are the reason you’re still living. I got to tell Morgan Henderson and Skyler Skjelset that “The Shrine” was the reason I picked up bass clarinet in high school. I got to show Robin Pecknold my Helplessness Blues tattoo and teach him how to “hardstyle” (see picture below). Most of all, I got to thank them for pulling me out of the roughest patches of my life. Even though I waited six long years to see them live, I wouldn’t change a single second of that evening. I went to sleep that night (in a Walmart parking lot) knowing that Robin Pecknold knew that he served something beyond himself.