Following their last sold-out performance at Brighton Dome, Fleet Foxes returned to the south coast last night to perform at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. The venue is a Grade I listed Art Deco contemporary arts centre, containing a large gallery as well as the near-1000 capacity concert hall, complete with balcony, which is where I was watching the show from. The balcony provided a great view of the show, but if you’re over 6-foot tall, try to get in the front row as legroom is certainly not going spare in the other rows.
Considering the size of Bexhill, roughly 1/6th of the size of Brighton, it did seem an interesting choice of location for the band to visit – but perhaps Spotify’s data told them that there was a loyal pocket of supporters in the area because the show was close to capacity. The Pavilion provides an abundance of nearby parking (on-street and the DLWP Car Park, which is free after 8pm) and one of the cheapest bars I’ve ever seen at a gig. The venue also has a restaurant, which was offering pre-concert catering (however, I opted for a local pub just a few minutes away).
The show began with a support slot from Nick Hakim, fresh from performing live in session on Lauren Laverne’s show on BBC Radio 6 earlier that day. His songs were pleasant enough but seemed to lack direction, merging his half an hour set almost into one long sonorous blur. By the time Fleet Foxes took to the stage, the audience had doubled, possibly trebled.
As their intro music played, six dark and enigmatic figured took to the stage. The band opened with a couple of tracks from the new record, Crack-Up, before they started peppering the set with their well-known hits. Throughout the performance, a number of things struck me: the number of bottle of different drinks on the table next to singer Robin Pecknold, the number of instruments the man on the right side of the stage was playing throughout the set (percussion, horn, sax, flute and double bass), the number of guitar changes required by the band, often mid-song (making it near impossible to cover their tracks in a live setting), and finally the number of anthemic tracks the band has written.
If I were asked to describe Fleet Foxes songwriting style, I would say that their signature tracks all feature clear clean melodic vocal verses, underpinned by guitars, keys, drums and the like, building choruses with vocal harmonies and a bit more oomph, and then a ‘weird bit’ at the end, which could be instrumental, or with vocals but is taking the track somewhere different. Whilst in their recordings, these parts really come into their own, however with their somewhat subdued live performance, unfortunately, a lot of their tracks sounded quite similar – and that is coming from somebody who is already quite familiar with their back-catalogue, so I wonder how any new Fleet Foxes fans might have felt about it.
Expectedly, the audience reacted strongly to anything from the first two albums, Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues, with a slightly dulled response to the more recent tracks from Crack-Up, with the exclusion of the track ‘Fool’s Errand’ which seems to be an instant hit too. It’s always a shame when a band’s latest album doesn’t represent their best work, and whilst Crack-Up is by no means a cop-out, I think it will take a while and a few more listens before it has a chance of joining its predecessors with an iconic status and getting the same reaction from the audience as the likes of ‘Mykanos’, ‘White Winter Hymnal‘, ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ and ‘Helplessness Blues‘.