Fleet Foxes @ The Grand Ballroom

05Oct08

Last night, in front of an appreciative, yet playfully demanding crowd, Fleet Foxes proved their sound was definitely worthy of a venue called The Grand Ballroom. Or maybe its the other way around: The Grand Ballroom proved it was worthy of a band called Fleet Foxes.

Right off the bat, lead singer Robin Pecknold announced that this was the first time he has played in New York while not being sick. Perhaps this raised the bar for those in the crowd who had seen them perform before, but even if that was the case, the band put on a show that surpassed expectation.

I had never been to The Grand Ballroom before, but I had seen Fleet Foxes perform once before at a small, cramped basement. I soon discovered that it was definitely a smart move to see them again in a larger space. While small venues are usually preferred, Fleet Foxes music is far too big to be trapped in a tiny room. I realized the space had not done justice to their music. Seeing them last night was a whole different experience. The Grand Ballroom, housed on the seventh floor of the Manhattan Center on 34th Street, had a nice open feel to it and a carpeted floor for the standing crowd. There was an upper level of balcony seating, too. And the stage is just plain pretty, which definitely complemented the music.

Pecknold wondered aloud if the ceiling was too high, the space to big, but their sound had no trouble filling the empty space, so he had no need to worry. As the crowd shifted forward, closer to the stage and to each other, I chose to stay back. First, I thought I was just having an adverse reaction to the crowd as I chose not to move up as close as possible. But then I realized it was because I wanted space around me to hear and feel the music. I wanted to be surrounded by it. I didn’t want anyone or anything getting in it’s way. It was a smart move. As they played song after song from their debut album Fleet Foxes, I was mesmerized.

An especially chatty Pecknold humored the fans and actually answered or commented on the questions and requests that were shouted out. He all but carried on conversations with multiple audience members. When he found out that some of them had seen recent shows and had requests for unreleased songs, he seemed a little caught off guard and realized this was a serious crowd expecting Fleet Foxes to bring their A-game. Luckily, Pecknold was in good spirits and seemed quite personable (maybe too personable, as the crowd quickly became very comfortable shouting out to him), and he took the requests in stride. When the band debuted “Silver City”, his hand quotes gestured that even the song’s name was still in the works. When the band finished the song, Pecknold reiterated that they were still working on it…and then bassist Christian Wargo joked that the audience was supposed to cry out, “Nooooo” to indicate that it’s great just the way it is, no more work necessary.

One of the highlights of the show was when the rest of the band members left the stage and Pecknold played a solo “Oliver James” without the aid of a microphone or amplifier. It was at this moment that you realize you’re watching a really talented guy with a very strong voice. I could imagine this working in a small place like Union Hall or Bowery Ballroom, but the 10,000 square-foot Grand Ballroom? But, hey, it worked. His voice did not get lost in the large space, and it didn’t even look like he was struggling to reach the back of the room. With such a favorable response to “Oliver James”, Pecknold decided to scrap the microphone on “Tiger Mountain Demon Song” as well. Once the other band members returned, Pecknold took a moment to assess the time he had just spent alone on stage. He summed it up by saying he felt like “an egomaniac.” He may not have been comfortable stealing the spotlight, but these are the moments that people come out for, so I’m afraid he’ll have to get used to it. It’s clear that this band has it’s fair share of groupies, and they will undoubtedly be at the next show. So, Fleet Foxes, good luck, I’m afraid you’ve raised the bar yet again.

Photos courtesy of Helene Nilsen.

Fleet Foxes @ The Grand Ballroom
Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes

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