Concert Review: Fleet Foxes, Auckland Town Hall

By Dan Trevarthen

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Fleet Foxes at the Auckland Town Hall. Photo / Dallas Pickering
Fleet Foxes at the Auckland Town Hall. Photo / Dallas Pickering

The funny thing about this moment of rock'n'roll is that your parents probably approve of it. A pick and mix gathering of hipsters, bros and everyone in between have come to pack out the Town Hall and hear bearded men sing in four-part harmony and utilise the kind of picking you'll find in your dad's record collection.

This quiet rebellion takes on some volume pretty quickly though. Like The Shins cooing 'New Slang' before them, the most memorable part of Fleet Foxes' songs is often the wordless vowel sounds sung in unison, and here they're aided by hundreds of voices - guess Sub Pop knows how to pick 'em. But when Fleet Foxes' most memorable lyric often isn't a lyric, it's easy to be cynical about the collection of folk music signifiers involved.

But they're smart, and the peak supply of this type of rustic music isn't lost on them. They feel like they're in a transition stage, integrating songs with more instrumental progression and trying to be less of a folk band than just a band.

The driving toms and billowing melody of Grown Ocean makes it as anthemic as indie rock comes in any genre. On the other hand, they increasingly close with frenzied finales which aren't so much their forte. The atonal bass clarinet solo of The Shine/An Argument seems a flippant use of baggage space if you're not using it anywhere else/not seriously trying to integrate no-wave into your sound.

However, when you're talking the more harmonic side of the ledger, their chops are stupendous. The Town Hall is about as perfect a venue as you could find outside of something less feasible like the Hopetoun Alpha. Gliding through the natural reverb of the room, Ragged Wood is unstoppable, all Beach Boys' harmony and a train-like snare shuffle. It's got great forward momentum, but they know when to stop on a dime - Robin Pecknold hangs in the air singing, "You should come back home..." as the band halts, and it's perfect for the moment you're heading back to the comforts of the central hook. It gets even better when they strip things back to showcase their voices.

Nearing the end, with a single spotlight on him, Pecknold wades into Blue Spotted Tail, a lyrical highlight. The giant pipe organ seems to loom even larger behind him as he asks, "Why is the earth moving around the sun/ Floating in the vacuum without a purpose/ Not a one". It's a spellbinding moment as he's gradually joined by his bandmates singing a bed of unobtrusive harmony below him. From there they take things back up several notches, closing with a cacophonous encore that reminds you this is still (kind of) rock'n'roll. But, at many points in the night, this doesn't feel a world away from some of the symphonic and choral works performed in this venue.

Who: Fleet Foxes
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Saturday 14 January

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