Talk about a murderer’s row of indie rock — it doesn’t get much better than the combination of The Walkmen and Fleet Foxes, who came together for a pair of shows at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre Tuesday and Wednesday. One of Seattle’s best current success stories, Fleet Foxes is Exhibit A of the city’s continued relevance in producing quality, widely popular acts. I mean, around for barely five years and you’ve already got The Walkmen opening for you? You’re obviously doing something right.
The dapper New York City five-piece got things started Tuesday with a tantalizingly short set — these guys certainly had no problem playing the part of gracious opening act — that made stops all across the discography. Surprisingly, with the gorgeous Lisbon not even a year old, that record didn’t get the spotlight. In fact, a healthy handful of new songs from Hamilton Leithauser and company may have gotten that honor. Elegant, focused rock songs like those The Walkmen dish out with seeming ease, each of the new numbers bodes well for the next record. At the pace they’ve kept their entire career, it would seem this next one should be out within a year or so.
Like fellow New York band The National, The Walkmen makes music that consistently reveals new facets — deceptively simple songs and instrumentation soon become anything but. Seeing the band live only reinforces this notion, as Tuesday’s extended version of “Blue as Your Blood” stretched to new emotional heights. Leithauser’s expressive performance ensured this was the case for pretty much every song on the setlist.
Fleet Foxes took the stage soon after for an immensely enjoyable set, anchored by the indelible harmonies and musical intricacies of the band’s sophomore record, Helplessness Blues. A cursory glance at Fleet Foxes might reveal a band that looks like just another set of bearded folkies playing sorta country, sorta old-timey, sorta over-earnest tunes. In a lot of ways, this is the Northwest’s new band du jour, but Fleet Foxes is in another league altogether.
For one, Robin Pecknold’s songwriting is frequently astonishing, both in its lyrical intricacy and its restless creativity. He writes songs that have an emotional immediacy, but they’re hardly simple guitar-driven singer-songwriter numbers that all blend together. The folk elements — thanks mostly to the pretty, pretty sun-dappled sound the harmonies create — are prominent, but psychedelic freak-outs like the saxophone solo on the tail end of “The Shrine/An Argument” and time signature shifts like on “Helplessness Blues” make for music that feels both of another era and excitingly modern at the same time.
Tuesday’s show saw a chatty, relaxed Pecknold talk about his self-mythologizing mood amid a near-constant stream of song requests and proclamations of love from the vocal audience. He wryly proclaimed he was glad no one had to sit in the very back seats, but it might as well have been a sold-out show for all the noise the crowd made. Content to ignore much of the inane audience chatter, Pecknold did respond to a request to introduce the band — “When it’s Robin Pecknold and the Gryffindor All-Stars playing the Emerald Queen Casino, then I’ll introduce the band.”
But for all of his sardonic observations, Pecknold possesses an emotional incisiveness and vulnerability that he distills down into his searching, exquisite songs. Tuesday’s encore saw him perform a solo song he’d never performed before, about a lost love of his youth, and the bare honesty of it helped one understand just how he can craft the intricate, immediate music of Fleet Foxes.