Friday, May 20, 2011

Can Fleet Foxes Cure Your "Helplessness Blues"?

Indie folk band, Fleet Foxes, was in New York City this week promoting their new album, "Helplessness Blues," which came out on May 3, 2011.  Although I am a big fan of their eponymous debut album, "Helplessness Blues" has not grabbed me in quite the same way, despite solid reviews from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork (although it was panned by NME).

United Palace 
Nevertheless, I was excited to have a ticket to Fleet Foxes' sold out May 19 show at The United Palace, a majestic, palatial church-by-day, concert hall-by-night venue in Washington Heights, at Broadway and 175th Street. Admittedly, I was not familiar enough with the songs on the new album to fully enjoy as Fleet Foxes opened up. The audience seemed to be on the same page as me, as the crowd was relatively quiet until they reached one of my favorite songs, when the audience erupted as soon as the first few notes made "Mykonos," from Fleet Foxes' "Sun Giant" EP recognizable. It wasn't until they played "Mykonos" that I finally felt my body begin to sway to the music as I breathed in every note and lyric. Lead singer Robin Pecknold's voice is simply haunting. He brings a unique melodic style to the band's performances (I have also seen Fleet Foxes play at the Newport Folk Festival).

Fleet Foxes
Overall, the show was full of intricate, complex harmonies that really highlighted Pecknold's vocal range. The band also incorporated various instruments including flute, cello, mandolin, tambourines and maracas. There was even genuine piano accompaniment for some songs, which is rare, as new bands increasingly rely on keyboards and other electronic instruments.

The audience, which was a strange mix of preppy yuppie-types and hipster folkies, continued their cheering support as Fleet Foxes played popular songs from their debut album, including "Winter White Hymnal," "Ragged Wood," as well of, of course, many songs from the new album, followed by a "surprise" encore solo performance by Pecknold of "Oliver James."

I found that the main difference between Fleet Foxes' first and second LP was syncopation, especially noticeable at the live show. Both albums contain songs that are somewhat mellow and carefree sounding, while still chock full of emotion and, sometimes, despair. However, "Fleet Foxes" experimented much more with rhythms, while the syncopation on the sophomoric album, "Helplessness Blues" is somewhat lacking. In terms of genre, "Fleet Foxes" comes off a bit more pop, while songs from "Helplessness Blues" lean more clearly toward the folk genre.

Fleet Foxes played two nights in NY, May 18 and 19, and will next be showcasing at Tower Theater in Upper Derby, PA, at a venue just west of Philadelphia, on Saturday, May 21, assuming "The Rapture" doesn't hit first (Yes, Pecknold did make sure to mention Christian "Family Radio" Harold Camping's prediction that The Rapture will happen this Saturday)...

Although the NY shows were sold out, it appears that there are still tickets available for the PA show here.

Chicken, Spanish Rice, and Beans
 at Malecon
If you do happen to find yourself in the Washington Heights neighborhood, I highly recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at Malecon, a Dominican and Cuban restaurant across the street from United Palace (with another location on the Upper West Side at Amsterdam and 97th St). The rotisserie chicken is cooked fresh and is melt-in-your mouth tender with a crispy, buttery skin you won't want to leave behind.

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