Live Review: Fleet Foxes - Sydney Opera House (02.01.12)

Reasonably bearded Seattle based six piece Fleet Foxes had an amazing 2011. Releasing their sophomore LP Helplessness Blues to rave reviews around the world - hitting Number One in Norway, Number Two in the UK, Number Four in the US and Number Six on the Australian Charts - and touring the globe relentlessly, including a spot on the Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel) curated ATP in December, they chose to bring the year to an end with two spell-binding performances at Falls Festival.

It doesn't seem like things are slowing down any time soon for the band, with their first shows of 2012 being held in Sydney's iconic Opera House, in three sold out and eagerly anticipated performances. In spite of all the accolades and everything that has led to this point, however, it's quite clear they're not letting it get to their heads, as indicated by lead singer Robin Pecknold's first words on the stage: "This is absurd", as the band took their places in front of a cinematic space-and-shape laden backdrop.

They would later go on to try and come to terms with their "luck" at getting to play the venue by suggesting that perhaps one of the members was in fact the Prince of Burma, whose father was making this all possible with some under-the-table payments and deals. This naturally went into a discussion about magic carpets, Aladdin, and a gentle reminder that this is a band who - as well groomed their sound may be - in no way expected any of this.

Looking back to 2008, however, the success of their debut self-titled album (which also resulted in their appearance at Falls Festival for New Years 2008, alongside sold out sideshows), seemed to not only precede their own rise to the elite stature of "Sydney Opera House performers", but the rise of the "indie folk rock" genre as a whole. Fleet Foxes set the groundwork which bands like Mumford & Sons and Boy & Bear would eventually ride on... which then saw additional exposure for Fleet Foxes themselves.

One thing that separates the Foxes from the rest, however, is the focus on lyrical poetry, rather than the sort of instantly catchy "sing-a-longs" that led Mumford to the top of the Hottest 100 - especially on Helplessness Blues. The band reach levels akin to some of the best work of Bob Dylan on their latest record, with the instrumentation second to none. And with the six members constantly changing and tuning instruments on stage (always a nice reminder that there is nothing artificial or "fake" going on up there), it's clear that Helplessness Blues is not an easy record to replicate live - but they do so with the sort of skill and precision one would not expect from a band so relatively early in their career.

Playing for shortly under two hours, Fleet Foxes showed the sold out crowd why they're one of the most respected and acclaimed bands in the industry, delivering a tight mix of both their full length albums, with a power that seemed to bring a fair few to tears. This is already beautiful music, but throw in the acoustics of the venue, the impeccable instrumentation and vocals of the band, and a poetic tendency that reminds you just how impressive this band is on all levels, and you have yourself a very special experience indeed.

With the nature of the music, the highlights of the show would differ for everyone in the room. Basically, if they played your favourite tracks, they would have almost certainly been your highlights. For me this included the standout of Helplessness Blues, "The Shine/An Argument", complete with incredible, deceptively messy yet precise Saxophone solo, and a beautifully loud presence, which moved straight into "Blue Spotted Tail", as it does on the record, with one of the many impressive harmonies of the evening behind frontman Robin Pecknold, who performed the track solo acoustically. This preceeded "Grown Ocean", which closed the main set (as it did the new album) and brought the crowd to their feet for the first of two standing ovations.

Another standout moment was the incredible violin featured in "Sim Sala Bim", which got the crowd clapping along for the first time. The two flutes in "Your Protector" also sounded impressive in the venue, while "White Winter Hymnal", which moved straight into "Ragged Wood", gave us all goosebumps and lived up to all expectations. "Sun It Rises" was the most rockin' of the tracks of the night, and possibly resulted in a few ringing ear drums, while the stunning "Helplessness Blues" closed out the night.

Few words can describe the beauty and the splendour of getting to see a band of this caliber in such a venue, and ultimately this was an unforgettable evening. Something tells me it was much the same for the band, too.

The band play two more shows at the Opera House - tonight and tomorrow night - before continuing their Sold Out Australian tour in Melbourne and Brisbane and playing Southbound in WA over the weekend. Do what you can to see them, you won't regret it! That's if you can even get tickets...

The Plains / Bitter Dancer
English House
Battery Kinzie
Bedouin Dress
Sim Sala Bim
Your Protector
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
He Doesn't Know Why
The Shine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Grown Ocean

New Song (Possibly "I Let You", Robin Solo on Guitar)
Sun It Rises
Blue Ridge Mountains
Helplessness Blues