It was almost too beautiful to bear: Thursday night Fleet Foxes unveiled their expanded lineup and new songs at the intimate Columbia City Theater in Seattle. Announced Wednesday morning, the impromptu show sold out in minutes, allowing three hundred fans a uniquely personal encounter with the city's most beloved young band in the city's finest-sounding room. The historic theater is a former vaudeville hotspot built in 1917, and Thursday night it felt like Seattle's living room with Fleet Foxes as house band.
The set was a warm-up for the world tour the Foxes embark on in a few weeks. It was a chance to break in the new instruments, mattress-size mixing desk, and sophisticated in-ear monitors the band will use when playing rooms five times the size of Columbia City Theater. And it was the concert debut of Morgan Henderson, the multi-instrumentalist added to the lineup for the recording of Helplessness Blues, the band's second LP on Sub Pop, set for release May 3.
"Thanks for coming out, to the ten of you who aren't in our immediate family," frontman Robin Pecknold quipped to start the night.
As usual, he played seated, sipping hot tea and strumming an acoustic guitar. The four other bandmembers rotated through 12 different guitars and two mandolins; Henderson moved between upright bass, acoustic and electric guitar, violin, tambourine, and, for the climax of multi-part epic "The Shrine/An Argument," a bass clarinet.
He and Casey Wescott played dueling flutes on fan favorite "Your Protector," while Wescott switched between upright piano, harmonium, and Hammond organ. Josh Tillman's malleted drums rumbled like distant thunder, while Sky Skjelset and Christian Wargo traded lead guitar duties.
The set was roughly 40/60 old and new material. The latter included "Grown Ocean," the Phil Spector-ish wall-of-sound fuzz-pop of "Battery Kinzie," the somber "Montezuma," and encore "Helplessness Blues," which veered through various moods before ending. Bouoyed by Fleet Foxes' three-part vocal harmonies, these new numbers felt denser than band's early, ethereal folk pop, and the 90-minute performance offered greater emotional range than the last time the band played Seattle over a year ago.
For what was essentially a dress rehearsal, Fleet Foxes sounded ridiculously tight, deliriously gorgeous. Grounded by Pecknold's articulate, intensely introspective lyrics, the new songs went new places and the attentive hometown crowd went along willingly. No need to fear a sophomore slump — these guys are just getting warmed up.