Fleet Foxes | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

Words? I have none. Rather, I had none after bearing witness in person to the insanely spectacular live performance by Fleet Foxes, and taking some time to reflect I’m still just as amazed as I was when the folk-rock outfit made their final bows at The Mann Center on July 31st.

The evening began with an opening set from experimental electronic pop group Animal Collective, which began playing to a pretty empty venue but soon got the crowd grooving with their spooky, primal beats and nonstop energy. They transitioned seamlessly between each track, never stopping the performance over the eight songs they played. To see them play a slightly smaller venue with a full set would be an otherworldly experience. Animal Collective was certainly a very different sound than the main act to follow, but theirs was complimentary and almost served as a sonic palette cleanser that made what was to come that much better. (I held out hope for an Alex G surprise set, but there was no such luck.)

Animal Collective | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

The normally long, eventless turn-around time between sets was made quicker with lively discussions amongst fans about the possible setlist, criticisms and praises of the new record (read our Crack-Up review here), and an overall atmosphere of unbridled anticipation as Fleet Foxes fans old and new awaited the first opportunity to see the band live in five years to begin. Happenings on the stage provided more entertainment still, as (more than a few) crew members attempted to work the large overhead projector that would provide the show’s background imagery in what became a drawn-out battle between the remote and the crew until they resorted to the tried and true turn-it-off, turn-it-back-on trick that put the final touch in place.

Then Fleet Foxes walked on and delivered ninety minutes of flawless folk rock that rose above and beyond all of my already-high expectations. Frontman Robin Pecknold led off with a statement sure to endear him to the Philly crowd, saying that the Mann Center was one of the most beautiful venues he has seen–and he’s seen quite a few. Beginning with Crack-Up opener “I Am All That I Need” and rocking right through the next two Crack-Up tracks as well, the group easily translated the more complexly mixed tracks to the live show; even without the backing orchestral arrangements the sound coming from the stage was larger than life, and their essence remained; I lost track of how many different instruments Morgan Henderson pulled out throughout the show to bring that particular studio sound to life.

Fleet Foxes | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

Robin Pecknold’s voice soared effortlessly in every moment, clear and strong even through an early technical issue with his microphone. A vocal standout was the mid-set “He Doesn’t Know Why” from 2008’s Fleet Foxes LP. Two tracks later, he and his guitar went solo for “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” from the same record, and the quieter track held the entire Mann Center in rapt attention that led to a wild standing ovation from the seated crowd; Robin tried to laugh it off, keep the show moving, but the applause was ceaseless so he did what anyone would do and sipped some tea before finally cutting the audience off with the opening chords of ‘If You Need To, Keep Time On Me.” With the full band, the group’s famed harmonic melodies with acoustic-driven backing were complete sensory insanity of the best sort.

During the set, Pecknold took a few moments to honor the return to Philadelphia of new Fleet Foxes drummer: Matt Barrick of The Walkmen fame. At another point, a member of the audience yelled the questionable “Fleet Fox Babies,” to which Pecknold threw right back “You want to have fox babies with me? I guess we could adopt some, are you in?”

Fleet Foxes | photo by Emma Silverstone for WXPN

Two more standouts came at the end of the set from 2011’s Helplessness Blues. When the first notes of “The Shrine / The Argument” sounded, the crowd went absolutely crazy and rightly so. The two-part song is just as wild, beginning with some beautiful, easy lines before breaking down into dissonance and chaos – the argument. It is an experience just to listen to, and a whole journey to experience live. The last song of the main set was Fleet Foxes’ song for the generation, their socially conscious and self-aware title track. “Helplessness Blues” turned into a big, beautiful singalong that only slightly faltered in the second half; Robin updated a few of the lyrics after having a good amount of time for reflection and growth since its release six years before.

After another standing ovation Pecknold returned for the encore, solo once more for “Oliver James” and again having to cut off the applause that never stopped. The full band closed with the new title track “Crack-Up,” which seemed slightly self-indulgent at first considering they hadn’t played many of the expected favorites from the last two records. Still, it turned into a solid, rocking conclusion for an incredible set, showing without a doubt that Fleet Foxes are back.

Fleet Foxes Setlist
I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar
Cassius, –
– Naiads, Cassadies
Grown Ocean
Ragged Wood
Your Protector
The Cascades
On Another Ocean (January / June)
Fool’s Errand
He Doesn’t Know Why
Battery Kinzie
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
If You Need To, Keep Time on Me
White Winter Hymnal
Third of May / Ōdaigahara
The Shrine / An Argument
Blue Ridge Mountains
Helplessness Blues

Oliver James

Animal Collective Setlist:
Lying in the Grass
Kinda Bonkers
Sweet Road
Daily Routine
Guys Eyes
Water Curses
Summertime Clothes