It is well known that the Fleet Foxes look like lumberjacks and sing like angels, but less known is that live, they play like a band that made a deal with the devil at the crossroads. If you loved their 2008 self-titled LP but were a little underwhelmed by the new Helplessness Blues, you should have been at the Tower Theater on Saturday night, because those same songs blared loudly with the kind of heat, friction, and true grit sorely lacking on the recording. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that sometimes the difference between good and great is more midrange.
The hirsute Seattle six-piece is largely acoustic and traffics in autumnal '60s folk-rock and sun-dappled three-part harmonies that can be deadly in the wrong hands; Saturday they managed to stay on the right side of preciousness. The current incarnation - lead singer-songwriter Robin Pecknold, bassist/backing vocalist Christian Wargo, guitarist/drummer/backing vocalist Joshua Tillman, mandolinist Skyler Skjelset, keyboardist Casey Wescott, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson - proved remarkably precise and versatile, adept at replicating the arrangements' ethereal sonics and whisper-to-a-scream dynamics. And those immaculate, sunbeam harmonies - part Beach Boys, part Gregorian chant - raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Starting off with the delicate, misty-mountain hop of "The Cascades" and morphing into the zooming, baroque crescendos of "Grown Ocean," the Foxes delivered a breathless, often breathtaking 90-minute victory lap through the highlights of their two albums and debut EP, including a note-perfect "White Winter Hymnal" (arguably their greatest song), a heartbreakingly gorgeous "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and a staggering, stately interpolation of "Montezuma" into "He Doesn't Know Why."
Maybe it's the pin-drop silence between songs, but lately Tower shows have been riddled with boorish hollering. Saturday was no different; all night, a confederacy of dunces shouted such profundities as "You rock!" and "Yeah!", seemingly interpreting the band's entreaties to shush as license to holler more. "It's like The Rocky Horror Picture Show in here," said mildly exasperated front man Pecknold. Stay classy, Philly.