September 26th, 2011 | Live reviews

The first time I heard Fleet Foxes, I was on my bed in a Portland hotel, surfing the internet, and came upon their Myspace page. As soon as I hit play, I was hooked. My mind had instantly been sent to a world of purity, simplicity, and peace. As a lover of the outdoors, this became my soundtrack. When I decided to take a 1400 mile trip up and down California’s scenic Highway 1 in 2008, I drove the winding roads through the mountains and thick fog, listening and contemplating life and my environment. It was as if the stillness of the ocean and the clouds hovering over it were made to accompany the music. The tall tunnel of redwoods seemed in tune as well. When I passed through Big Sur, I stopped at the Henry Miller Library. It was late into the night, lights were strung all over and folding chairs were scattered across the lawn. Redwoods stood high above the stage, forming a backdrop of expansive branches. I sat there, sipping hot tea, and thought it would be the perfect place for Fleet Foxes to play. I wanted to feel the cool breeze of the ocean, to smell the pine of the tall trees, to have a moment when my spirit was quiet and still in a place that seemed as though it had been the inspiration for writing these melodies, for singing the harmonies, for conveying truth and depth in the lyrics.

On September 11th, with the moon high and full in the sky, the lucky three hundred bundled up attendees awaited Fleet Foxes’ arrival, sitting on blankets that dotted the Library lawn. Beyond the twinkling strings of lights, the trees were illuminated from below on their beautiful limbs, and supplemented by a screen backdrop, which transitioned from falling stars to moving geometric shapes in various colors, to mountains silhouetted by a sunrise. The mostly-bearded men stepped up on the tiny, quaint stage. There was whistling, cheering, and clapping. We were all just so excited and it was easy to see that the musicians were as well; they had just been heartily welcomed by the library’s director. The men picked up their instruments and with a few strums and picks from Pecknold’s guitar, the show began. As “The Plains/Bitter Dancer” slowly progressed, we were wrapped up in the flawless harmonies and steady rhythms of percussion. Some in the crowd closed their eyes, others nodded along to the beat.

“English House” inspired some people to get up and dance to the playful, whimsical song, but the majority of the crowd sat and listened, mellow. Between songs the band chatted on stage with their clearly dedicated and loyal fans. The band’s drummer, Josh Tillman, charmed the crowd with his jokes and comments. The show felt personal, as if the band was playing around a campfire or in their own backyard.

With a combination of songs from their newest record, Helplessness Blues, and their first, self-titled album, the set was thoroughly satisfying and the night close to perfect. Everything was copacetic. Just as I had thought years ago, the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur was the perfect places to experience not just live music, but this music.

Kate Rentz (words + photo)

Fleet Foxes Set List:

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 Shrine/An Argument
Blue Spotted Tail
Grown Ocean
I Let You
Sun It Rises
Blue Ridge Mountains
Helplessness Blues