LIVE: Fleet Foxes, 'A Very Lonely Solstice'

Deep in the recesses of a Brooklyn's St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church, Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes delivers a live set so good, 'godlike' is the only apt description.
Posted: 24 December 2020 Words: Isaac Bartels

Stationed amongst the pews of the St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold sits cross-legged, surrounded by an all-masked, all-female choir Resistance Revival Chorus. Performing the opening track from the band’s latest release, Shore, a lone man’s voice rests beneath a unison of altos and sopranos. Though their faces are masked, the chorus clearly sings with a furrowed concentration.

Beyond this opening, 'A Very Lonely Solstice' livestream is, fittingly, a solo performance. Much like the musical arrangement, the camerawork in this performance is straightforward. Pecknold - tucked away into the alcove of the grand Peabody Memorial Organ - seems truly oblivious to the lens peeking at him round corners; yet he doesn’t seem to mind if somebody were to watch his performance. 

And what a performance it is. When the impact of the grandiose setting wears off, all that remains is a voice and a guitar. Credit must be given to the sound mixing team: each plucked string of the guitar rings with a striking clarity seldom heard in live recordings. Pecknold’s honeycomb vocals, brimming with warmth, sound impossibly better than the studio recordings. The concept of falsetto rarely seems to exist to the man, his passaggio holding off until well into the heights of his lyrical, lightly melismatic tenor. It is a vocal performance that rests on a knife’s edge. Each defiant swell comes with the tension of wondering whether this will be the phrase that cracks Pecknold’s voice. 

Save for a single throat-clearing, those expecting an imperfection will be disappointed: Pecknold, the cords tightening in his neck as he leans yearningly into the mic, is nothing short of awe-striking. From the lyricism to the performance style to the singularly unique vocals, there is something undeniably Bob Dylan-esque about Pecknold, which lines up perfectly with the man’s self-described influences. 

The sprawling set features music from Shore and previous albums Helplessness BluesCrack-Up and Fleet Foxes. Most surprising here are the covers of Bee Gees’ ‘In The Morning’ and Joan Baez’s ‘Silver Dagger’, with their inclusion feeling comfortably at home amongst the indie-folk setlist. Fans of ‘Helplessness Blues’, the band’s creative zenith, will be pleased to know that it is the standout of this livestream. The lyrics, potent as they are amongst the chorus of the studio recording, strike differently when echoing around the empty church.

This is a singularly unique performance made for the livestream experience. A show such as this could never achieve the grace and dignity it does when punctured by an audience's cheers. The silence between music is as crucial as the music itself. 

In 2009, Paul McCartney once messaged Robin Pecknold, complimenting him on his artistry and encouraging him to “keep fleeting.” When the lyrics, vocals and performances are this good, what else is there to say?

Tickets to 'A Very Lonely Solstice' are still available here.

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