Seattle’s Fleet Foxes second visit to the Portland area in four months was cloaked in nearby smoke from the Eagle Creek wildfire — the type that makes everyone cough and everything else seem hazy and eerily stunning. The band, known for its vibrant, natural indie folk, played McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale on Sept. 16. Months after the release of 2017’s “Crack-Up,” and amid a forested backdrop, Fleet Foxes returned not with a bang, but a sizzle.
The band sounds delicate and precise live. Songs like “Mykonos” and “Blue Ridge Mountains” took on a choral, angelic quality, but it was easy to tell that the smoke and air quality was affecting singer Robin Pecknold’s voice. He took long sips from a water bottle and a pot of Throat Coat tea as the show went on. “You can get it wherever fine teas are sold,” he told a curious audience member who shimmied up to the barricade to ask what he was drinking.
Occasionally, Pecknold’s voice would crack. Maybe because of this, the band played a vulnerable, intimate and wide-ranging set.
Everything, except for the bouncy Bee Gees-style pop from opener Natalie Prass, seemed a bit languid, even for indie-folk champions like Fleet Foxes. The band transitioned between songs in a slow, deliberate manner, almost like one long medley; often it was hard to tell when one song ended and the next started.
Most often these segues worked well. Near the end of the concert, a moving cover of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Runs the Game” streamed into “Helplessness Blues.” The audience was rapt as the songs became one and then parted ways. Fleet Foxes newest songs are well-suited for medley, but some of the band’s older (and lighter) material peppered throughout made the setlist feel less cohesive than the music actually was.
Pecknold relied very little on interacting with the audience between songs because of these transitions. This significant lack of interaction mixed with constant talking from the audience made the band seem a little flat personality-wise, even though its music spoke volumes. Pecknold left the audience wanting more with every quiet “Thank you.”
As the sun set and string lights between the trees turned on, the band found more of a groove. An older, graying woman started to do yoga on her blanket, mustachioed Portlanders put their arms around their girlfriends and everyone swayed a little bit more.
The wind blew through the trees during “White Winter Hymnal,” signifying fall’s imminent arrival. Fleet Foxes’s instrumentals, delicate and fraying around the edges, reverberated throughout the venue. In the end, the band was able to cut through the late summer haze, even if they were a little hazy themselves.
Follow Sararosa on Twitter @srosiedosie.