July 17, 2011
They came out talking. They didn’t have much to say, but that said a lot. Robin rambled on about some simpatico connection between mpls and portland. Some idiot in the audience felt the show was audience participation. Some other idiots felt the same way. The band went ahead and fed the animals. Then they tuned their instruments for way too long, a habit they engaged in throughout the show. (They don’t have guitar techs?) Finally, they started to play. And then it all REALLY went into the ditch (on my favorite song no less “Grown Ocean”).
The volume was too high. The mix was off. You couldn’t hear the vocals at all. The instruments teetered on the edge of distortion all evening (it was way worse to start, but it really didn’t get better after the sound complaints--at least from my seat in the balcony) making it impossible to enjoy the show. People complained (profanely) about the sound quality, other audience members complained (profanely) about the complainers, the band basically shrugged and whined about the audience bumming them out. Then they proceeded to play the next third of the concert in what i’d term, at best, a perfunctory manner. (i’m just assuming the 5 minutes of fiddling with their instruments in between song is part of their annoyingly obnoxious shtick and it had nothing to do with their hurt feelings).
But it wasn’t just the sound issues and the band’s response to said issues that were the problem.
For all the intricacies of the production on the recordings, the band had no idea how to evoke that intimacy live at the State. It was just play it to the max all the time, which definitely exacerbated the exasperating sound issues. This was doubly disappointing because the voices sounded quite nice when they were willing to step back and just let the harmonies fly. Make no mistake, they didn’t mess with the arrangements (which was a bit of a disappointment to me) they just had an utter lack of dynamics. Even the one song that changed the arrangement, ( a solo robin on “oliver james”) still had the acoustic guitar turned too high (and his voice on the edge of feedback). Clearly, great songs and excellent musicians do not make a great performance.
Halfway through the show i’m really the one bummed out and ready to leave. At least the band got paid despite the bad vibes in the room. However, nobody was walking down the aisles refunding my ticket price. (i should note that the state management was very gracious when i expressed my displeasure the next day)
However, minnesotans being what they are (enabling to the extreme), the crowd took it upon themselves to rouse the sullen teenagers performers with cheers and affirmation and rousing applause (for what i’m not really sure). Eventually the band felt they had punished the audience enough (with one last scold) and started to get into the performance again for an engaged and inspired closing (albeit still teetering on the edge of red). But even this late inning rally didn’t redeem the show for me.
This could have been soooo much better. Hopefully this show won’t color my impression of Fleet Foxes (although it will make me avoid their live show in the future (til around the reunion shows in 2021). Fortunately, two of my companions enjoyed the show quite a bit, and my S.O. said of all the concerts he’d been to with me, this was by far his favorite. A not so small saving grace this was, although it did make me wonder how rapturous they would have been if the sound would have been anything approaching competent (and if the band didn’t think they needed to be rock stars).