I was late for church last night, arriving at the Cedar about halfway through the Fleet Foxes’ first song.
Like every low sinner, I do the same thing every time I’m late to mass: linger in the back, near the entrance, and adopt an unobtrusive stance, humbly clasping my hands and slightly bowing my head, praying that the better Christians, anxiously glancing back at this interloper, would quickly return their attention to the altar. I did make it in time to hear the Foxes second song, “White Winter Hymnal” in full. Five voices harmonizing on a simple story about getting the children ready for sledding, or something:
I was following the pack
All swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ‘round their throats
To keep their little heads
From fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ‘round and there you go
And, Michael, you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries
In the summertime
It was pretty music, and the audience was in absolute thrall with these five guys, playing their mostly analog-era instruments, singing in harmony just like, as has been pointed out by seemingly everyone who’s heard them, a latter day CSNY. The Foxes have built a loyal following in this city—this was their third local show here in the last year or so, on the strength of only one E.P. and one full length. In fact, they sold this show out at the Cedar so fast that they added an earlier 5:30 show.
They played a couple more songs, “Ragged Wood” and “Your Protector.” They were both beautiful four-part harmonies filled with natural imagery, and the Foxes sang them with great feeling, closing their eyes and finding each other’s voices in the dark. I moved closer to the stage to get a better look at them. Some of them had long hair; maybe unwashed, definitely unbrushed. Four out of five of them had beards. One sported skinny jeans and an army jacket with rolled-up sleeves; another a silk vest over a pale-green windowpane-patterned shirt. They all wore exotic looking vintage leather boots. This was haute couture, commune-style.
The Fleet Foxes looked like good guys, as good for you as the organic kefir in the dairy case at The Wedge. Listening to a string of songs about coming down from the mountain, and crossing the stream, and laying on the grass in the orchard, I thought: any of these babies would’ve fit perfectly on the Jeremiah Johnson soundtrack. During a break, somebody shouted, “YOU LOOK LIKE JESUS!” and the Foxes’ alpha singer smiled beatifically.
The only time the crowd spoke up was during the breaks. (Evidently, peaceful quiet and sublime harmonization will conjure a heckler out of even the most earnest assembly.) But seemingly on every song, as soon as the Foxes played the first few notes, they would receive polite and enthusiastic recognition applause. You know, recognition applause—the simultaneous, exuberant “we’ve been waiting for you to play this all night!” The same type of applause that a seasoned performer, like a Dave Matthews or a Paul Simon, will get at an acoustic concert. But these guys were just five kids from Seattle with one L.P. to their name, and the crowd—all skinny jeans and thick-framed glasses and vintage t-shirts—looked much hipper than a co-ed DMB crowd.
I was confused.
Who were these modern-day hippies and why were they so popular? Was it because The Current was in love with them? Did Barack Obama have something to do with this? Most importantly, it didn’t look like any of their fans were even coming close to freaking out. Weren’t hippies supposed to be about peace and love and, at the very least, good marijuana? There wasn’t much dancing, not even much smiling, just a lot of crossed arms and serious nodding along. What exactly were these Fleet Foxes aficionados, these modern day hippies, on? Just organic kale and microbrew, or something stronger?
I went outside to the Cedar’s little patio for a cigarette to think about all this. Some blonde kid immediately interrupted my reverie. “Hey, man,” he said. “Great show in there. Really liked how you would sustain the fourth inversion.” Wait, what? Do you think I’m in the band, kid? “Oh, no, I’m sorry,” he said. “You look exactly like the keyboard player.” I really do not, but as long as I had his attention, I asked him why he loved these guys so much.
“Well, I’m a classically trained musician myself,” he said. He then stammered through a convoluted explication of inverted harmony theory and the potential for different vocal “colors,” until I thanked him and got up to head back in. “Sorry. I’m such a music dork…” he trailed off. He clearly had something else to tell me. “Hey, have you heard of that drug, Adderall?” Yes. “Well, I’m on that right now! Everything’s racing. I can’t even get drunk.”
Wow. Go easy on those pills, brother.