Throwback Thursday: Fleet Foxes

Robin Pecknold and Skylar Skjelset, Bottom of the Hill, Feb. 2008. Photo by Paige Parsons courtesy of The Ice Cream Man

Conceded: Fleet Foxes are not technically a “throwback,” per se. However, this is a blog about memory, and whilst sitting at my computer and stumbling through the internet abyss I came across a recording of the first Fleet Foxes show I ever attended courtesy of Wolfgang’s Vault. Talk about nostalgia in real time, this vault gives me the band banter and crowd chatter in addition to their set.

In 2008, the hither-to unknown Fleet Foxes opened for Blitzen Trapper at Bottom of the Hill during a local indie music festival called Noise Pop. I say “hither-to unknown” because this was their first out-of-town show; they hailed from Washington state. If you live in San Francisco and haven’t attended a Noise Pop festival, you should: the lineup always features a few stunners and the shows are staged in awesomely intimate venues scattered around the City. I was coaxed to the show by a friend who loves Blitzen Trapper, and dragged my heterosexual Lifemate with me. At the time I was painfully (painfully) single, and just young enough to foster the delusion that lead singers in bands were making eye contact with me.

We arrived at the venue early to survey and be surveyed, so we were front center when Fleet Foxes took the stage. Perhaps it was the second beer on an empty stomach, but this concert became a religious experience. For those unfamiliar with the venue, the stage at Bottom of the Hill is minuscule but has height to accommodate the storage of gear underneath it. These dimensions create an odd dynamic where the band feels accessible because they’re crammed onto a tiny stage, yet remote since they sort of overlord above you in an illusory command. Being front and center, we were gazing up into the lights when the fellas took the stage and, in that atmosphere, the flannel-wearing, long-haired Robin Pecknold looked like a modern-day Messiah. Please remember, I was somewhat intoxicated. Then the man opened his mouth and out came that folk hymnal mightiness that has driven this band into the limelight. Glory, glory, everyone.

After our communion with musical religiosity, the Lifemate and I moseyed over to the merchandise table which was manned by Fleet Fox Skylar Skjelset. Being awkward college co-eds, we fumbled to make conversation and what transpired is the reason why my memory of this concert (aside from the music) remains so fond. As we pawed at CD’s and records we had no intention of purchasing, Lifemate said to Skjelset, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Macaulay Culkin?”

Skjelset’s expression went from welcoming to deadpan and my inner monologue screamed “Uh, oh. Abort. ABORT.” He simply said no and then there was silence. So I jumped in with an uncomfortable giggle and the caveat that, sometimes, people just like to make celebrity associations. For instance, people often tell me I look like Kirsten Dunst. To which he replied, “At least Kirsten Dunst doesn’t look retarded.”

Having sufficiently slammed the door shut on that interaction, we moved on–specifically a few feet to the right in order to stay in close proximity to the band (cut us some slack, we were young). I went to grab another drink, and I returned to find Lifemate chatting up Josh Tillman. Sweet lord, she was on a roll. The point at which I entered the conversation, I heard him say “Oh yeah? What instrument do you play?” It should be noted that Lifemate does not, nor has she ever, played any instrument. Ever. Meaning she somehow either intimated mistakenly or blatantly lied to the fact that she was also a musician in order to find common ground. Excellent strategy; I think it unnecessary to elaborate on how that turned out.

To reiterate, we were incredibly young and intoxicated, and who hasn’t done some stupid stuff when those are the elements in play. For the record, I now KNOW through the wisdom of age that lead singers are not making eye contact with me except to acknowledge that I’m the girl that cold-emailed him/her about reviewing his/her show. Although it’s painful to recall growing pains, it’s also a delight to remember a time when possibilities were rife when you set foot into a venue–when every glance and every innuendo were titillating, and the music was all you had. I do take issue with the Wolfgang’s Vault for-profit model in which they market our memories to us, betting on the fact that we’ll subscribe to the soundtrack of our youth.

But…I am a subscriber. I am a subscriber because listening to the exact transcript of a show that partially inspired me to pursue music journalism is an out-of-body experience and is priceless. And that is the definition of a throwback.




J. Tillman, “Firstborn”

She realized would never touch the ivory on her mother’s piano again. It, as with all she had known, was fracturing to other places. It had left its place beside the hearth. Far from her reach, Foreign to her sight. Washed clean free of provenance to dwell in a home with no mind for such things.  No longer a gift from her father, who now laid snugly in the ground. No longer there to gather the family ’round.  Another memory gone.

Now just another piece of furniture on which to place a drink.