Piping-hot tea awaited Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold before he made his way onto the Sutro stage on Saturday afternoon. He was joined for the band’s Outside Lands set by fellow band members guitarist Skyler Skjelset, keyboardist and mandolin player Casey Wescott, as well as several other touring musicians and vocalists.
Fleet Foxes opened its set with “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” off this year’s Crack-Up. The track was a hefty way to begin the set, featuring rock-tinged guitar riffs and a brass section. The song was followed by the second track of the same album, “Cassius, -” — both songs have a rougher edge than the band’s previous music, and its Outside Lands set did well to balance the two tones — using Pecknold’s hymns as threads to tie tunes together into a cohesive whole.
After a few songs off the new album, the band played “Grown Ocean” — the last track off 2011’s Helplessness Blues — which had the crowd harmonizing like a motley choir, followed by “Ragged Wood” and “Your Protector,” off the band’s self-titled first album.
The band, interestingly, chose to pair “The Cascades,” — which features a folksy guitar melody — with “Mearcstapa,” which started off in an alternative-rock vein that then became as soft as low-tide waves on a hazy summer morning. The blending of these two tracks highlighted the cross-genre abilities of the band’s several guitarists, as well as the changing nature of the percussion — from punchy to fluttery and back again. This flow persisted through the tracks that followed, “On Another Ocean (January / June)” and “Fool’s Errand,” as they’re ordered on the tracklist of the band’s latest release.
The tone of the set wound back around to the folksy foundation from which Fleet Foxes originally grew when the band played “He Doesn’t Know Why.” Despite the sense of hopelessness captured in the song’s lyrics, the crowd were swaying and bopping along as they had throughout the band’s entire set. The mellow “He Doesn’t Know Why” faded well into the band’s beachy hit “Mykonos” from their 2008 EP Sun Giant.
From there, the band dove into what is likely their best known single, “White Winter Hymnal,” which sent the crowd into a flurry of vocalized canons and communal dancing circles. Swirls of color surrounded the already spiritual energy engulfing Fleet Foxes’ set, but the collective harmony of “White Winter Hymnal” was a pinnacle moment at Outside Lands this year.
The band didn’t stop there, though, and instead transitioned right back into their newer material with “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” followed by the new album’s title track, “Crack-Up.” These songs certainly aren’t a far cry from their guitar- and vocals-centric style, but are perhaps slightly sharper and crisper — moving toward a more folk-rock genre Dylan-esque style rather than the Simon and Garfunkel vibe that defined the band’s first two albums.
It’s safe to say that the band knows what hooked its fans, though, as the set closed with the title track of Hopelessness Blues, with the crowd singing along to every line as if they’d tattooed the lyrics across their hearts, in wait for Fleet Foxes’ return after an approximately five-year hiatus.