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Review: Fleet Foxes are back in most impressive fashion

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Reno gets its first concert with Robin Pecknold and Fleet Foxes in the Grand Sierra Resort on Sept. 18.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Michael Smyth

The Grand Sierra Resort hosted an impressive night of music Monday when it welcomed Natalie Prass and Fleet Foxes to Reno to flood the Grand Theatre in captivating sounds.

With their angelic harmonies, ornate melodies and songwriting that reads like heroic poems, Fleet Foxes have been one of the most acclaimed indie bands of the last decade. The band’s first two albums, “Fleet Foxes” and “Helplessness Blues,” are quintessential acoustic experiences, with their meticulous layering of sounds and lavish production. The group was signed to indie stalwart Sup Pop Records and principal songwriter and vocalist Robin Pecknold received praise as coming to define a singular sound that seemed to capture the spirit of the Northwest in all of its beautiful glory.

But then Pecknold walked away in 2013, trading the overexposure of being an idolized musician for a secluded existence that prioritized privacy. He focused his energy on more personal fulfillment and took time to graduate with a degree from Columbia University. However, that four-year hiatus ended over the summer with the release of Fleet Foxes’ third album, “Crack-Up.” It’s been a welcoming return to the music scene from both critics and fans alike, and Fleet Foxes’ devoted followers were eager to see the band onstage again Monday night.

Tahoe Onstage

Richmond’s soulful Natalie Prass opens the concert.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

First, watched songstress Natalie Prass do her thing. The Richmond, Virginia-based singer-songwriter has received a good amount of praise for her eponymous debut album released in 2015 for its delicately crafted songs and flowery orchestration. But Prass stripped away that lavish, lacey veneer in concert and revealed the soul and R&B roots of her music.

Prass and her crack band of Spacebomb Record vets, dressed in all white, gave the fragile “Birds of Prey” a cool strut and “Why Don’t You Understand Me” was a gorgeous blend of earnest heartbreak and pointed regret with graceful, bouncy soul. Prass was a pint-size powerhouse as she hit crystalline falsettos with her unique, songbird voice and led the band with deft precision as frontwoman. At her best, she was a blended package of Hall and Oates craftsmanship with subtle, light tones of Prince showmanship, wrapped in a bow of back-patio swagger and soul. Prass packed way more groove than was expected and the only thing that could have made the set better was more time.

When the Fleet Foxes finally revealed themselves to the Reno crowd, they received a spirited, welcoming response. It was the band’s first time in the Biggest Little City and you could tell people had been literally waiting years for this opportunity. Luckily, their patience did not go unrewarded and Pecknold and company delivered a ravishing set of music.

Setting the night’s sweeping tone right from the start, Fleet Foxes kicked off their set with the multi-part epic “I Am All That I Need/ Arroyo Seco/ Thumbprint Scar,” the opening song on “Crack-Up.” The band layered pianos, drums, guitars and harmonies over each other in bold, impressionistic swaths, much like the ribbons of color projected both behind them and on wooden cutouts around them.

Roadies were constantly switching guitars and instruments out with the band to achieve the rich sound of the evolving sections, a smooth synchronicity that played out throughout the whole show. The musicians followed the flow of  “Crack-Up” and seamlessly wove “I Am All That I Need/ Arroyo Seco/ Thumbprint Scar” into “Cassius,-” and “-Naiads, Cassadies” with only a hint of a pause. By the time the band emerged from the opening trifecta, it felt like waking up from a deep, entrancing dream.

With its ornate songwriting and dramatic sound that could nicely fill a cathedral, it was easy to get swept up in the music. Pecknold long has been revered for his enchanting voice and it soared over the dramatic sonic landscape of songs like “Your Protector” and “Grown Ocean” such as an eagle gliding on thermals. The band’s cacophonous sound enveloped the audience in a wash of dense instrumentation that flourished on epics such as “Mykonos” and “The Shrine/ An Argument.” Paradoxically, Fleet Foxes still somehow achieve a palatable lightness to their music, which bloomed beautifully on “Battery Kinzie,” the song having an invigorating calmness to it that matched the peach and pink tones of a morning sun projecting on the screen.

Fleet Foxes fans are easily characterized as soft, sensitive, intellectual types with a penchant for poems and acoustic guitars. Maybe they are in the grand scheme of things, but they didn’t show any of that Monday night. The crowd was engaged and boisterous the whole show, peppering Pecknold with requests, “Wooo’s” and “I Love You’s” with determined vigor. At one point after a sustained wave of shouts, Pecknold stood back from the microphone and reciprocated with shouts and yells of his own for the audience, a wry smile dangling from his face. It was as an unexpected, though, welcomed vibe that steered the show closer to a rock show than a coffee shop blowout.

Favorites “Blue Ridge Mountains” and “Helplessness Blues” capped a satisfying close to the set, drawing rapturous applause throughout the theater. The band returned for “Oliver James” and ended the night on an entrancing “Crack-Up” that dissipated like smoke with the last chords. It was a striking show that reminded everyone why Fleet Foxes had risen to prominence in the first place, and why they’ll hopefully want to stay there for a while.

-Garrett Bethmann

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

The Fleet Foxes dwell in the Grand Theatre at the Grand Sierra Resort for the first time.

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Skyler Skjelset of Fleet Foxes.

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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