The last time Fleet Foxes played Toronto was in 2011, at which point they embodied a then-ubiquitous brand of bearded, flannel-clad hipsterdom. That cultural moment has since passed, but this latest Toronto gig — the first of a two-night stand at Massey Hall — showed that their music remains as lovely as ever.
The evening began with an opening set from up-and-comer (Sandy) Alex G, whose rigid posture was almost as awkward as his recently adopted parenthetical moniker. Still, his uncomfortable stage presence was endearing, particularly when he made cheeky between-song jokes (such as falsely claiming his cut "Proud" had been written on the tour bus just prior to the show). Beginning with a string of aching country-rock numbers, the material grew increasingly peculiar throughout the course of the set, with strange detours into arrhythmic skronk and keyboard-driven art rock.
The ramshackle charm of the openers highlighted the graceful self-assurance of the headliners, who opened with the grandly surging "Thumbprint Scar." Frontman Robin Pecknold led his fellow Foxes in soaring, Laurel Canyon-style harmony, and although the singer later admitted that he was drinking throat-soothing tea on "doctor's orders," his note-perfect voice sounded as clear and angelic as ever.
The first half of the set was predominantly made up of seamless segues and intricate song suites, with the six-piece lineup highlighting the complex prog-folk leanings of this year's Crack-Up. Multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson was particularly key in recreating the album's ornate orchestrations, as he alternated between percussion, woodwinds, cello and more.
As the set progressed, the tuning breaks between songs grew longer, prompting plenty of intrusive yells from the otherwise politely seated audience. (Hollering "Free Bird" or "Play some Fleetwood Mac" isn't funny, even in irony.) Still, Pecknold was witty enough to hold his own: when someone shouted "Play that one song," he quickly launched into an a cappella rendition of the band's signature tune, "White Winter Hymnal." This led to some quips about the jam band Phish (who recently covered the song), and he even gave Phish a shoutout during the climactic instrumental passage of "Mearcstapa."
The set ran for two full hours, with newer material like the majestic "On Another Ocean (January / June)" holding up nicely against back catalogue faves like "Helplessness Blues" and a solo encore rendition of "Oliver James."
Towards the end of the night, one fan shouted out a thank-you to the band for coming, to which Pecknold responded, "Anytime. Even if it takes six years." It's been a long time since Fleet Foxes hit the road, but this night proved it was worth the wait.