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Five disarming Foxes

The guys from Seattle infuse their harmonies with light and dark, bringing folk rock to the 21st century.

June 30, 2008|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times
  • LOOKING FORWARD: Seattle?s Fleet Foxes played songs from their EP and a newly released debut full-length at the Echo.
LOOKING FORWARD: Seattle?s Fleet Foxes played songs from their EP and a… (Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles…)

Fleet Foxes is a band of five young dudes from Seattle who look as if they've just come down from the mountain in their beards and flannel shirts and who call themselves "not much of a rock band." You can hear why amid the rustic folk and beatific vocal harmonies of their songs, which blend genres and eras into a gentle whole rooted on some melodic astral plane.

During the band's one-hour set before a capacity crowd Saturday at the Echo, the sounds were adventurous and quietly emotional, mingling the Celtic and pastoral with Beach Boys harmonies and crashing Americana into moments of real darkness and disarming pop bliss.

Singer Robin Pecknold doesn't roar behind the mike but often shuts his eyes tight, smiling or wincing or shaking as he sings, the words seeming to touch something at his core. The set began in reverent tones with an a cappella "Sun Giant," the title song from a Fleet Foxes EP released in February, as he sang: "What a life I lead when the sun breaks free, / as a giant torn from the clouds / What a life indeed when that ancient seed / is a berry watered and plowed."

Pecknold sat strumming an acoustic guitar during most of the set and joined the band in some rich pop melodies within "White Winter Hymnal" before revealing a streak of darkness in the final lyrics: "You would fall and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime."

Songs were drawn from the EP and a just-released debut album, "Fleet Foxes," with lyrics that could be charmingly simple or deeply enigmatic, set against the muscular, organic sounds of "Sun It Rises" or the yearning of "English House."

Vocals were typically high and soft, creating a sound warm, adoring and searching, with multipart harmonies usually sung by Pecknold, keyboardist Casey Westcott and bassist Christian Wargo. On "Drops in the River," Skye Skjelset took a violin bow to his electric guitar.

There were moments that recalled the gentle psychedelic folk of Neil Young's late '60s solo debut or the most delicate moments of Appalachian piety from the Band. But Fleet Foxes are among a recent wave of cosmic young folk players (Devandra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, etc.) who make music that looks back while reaching forward, stretching the definition of folk rock for a new century.

The band formed just two years ago in Seattle, led by childhood friends Pecknold and Skjelset, a couple of suburban kids with influences from many places and with a special knack for spirituals and dire folk tales.

At the Echo, band members took their time between songs, to sip water or to chat about the next number, but the delays were good-natured and organic.

The night's encores closed with "Blue Ridge Mountains," with achingly fragile harmonies and Skjelset playing a soaring, jangly mandolin melody. "You're ever welcome with me any time you like," Pecknold sang, seeming to beckon the crowd into joining his band's sacred/secular journey.

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