It’s been forever since Fleet Foxes toured properly in Europe – they returned with a female choir in Iceland

They were the main draw at Airwaves on Saturday night

Early on during tonight’s show at Harpa, Reykjavík’s state-of-the-art concert hall, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold makes a point of mentioning that this is the band’s first ever show in the city.

In reality, of course, he might be forgiven if he couldn’t remember back as far as the last meaningful leg of touring that his group got up to in Europe. They played a clutch of festival shows on the continent last summer, but until then, it had looked for a long time as if the Seattleites might not return in earnest: despite being one of the indie folk world’s biggest draws after the success of their self-titled debut in 2008 and 2011’s ‘Helplessness Blues’, they’d disappeared into the ether for a good long while thereafter.

In the interim, we’ve seen widespread internet speculation as to their whereabouts, as well as the spectacular ascension of their ex-drummer, Josh Tillman, to indie superstar status in his own right as Father John Misty. The impression you got was that Fleet Foxes were only ever coming back once they felt they had something to say. In that respect, they duly delivered, with June’s ‘Crack-Up’.

Still, this first show of the European tour proper in support of that LP seems beset in the early stages with, if not nerves, then a little apprehension. The band progress handsomely, if tentatively, through the album’s opening suite. Quickly afterwards, the pace picks up with ‘Grown Ocean’ and ‘Ragged Wood’. The crowd, gradually, are beginning to really respond.

As the set progresses, there’s the usual smattering of hits, ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ and ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ amongst them. Pecknold and co, though, seem genuinely set on marking this first ever Icelandic show, if for no other reason than, as the singer reveals, he’s retreated here to write lyrics in the past.

Perhaps that’s why we’re treated to a stirring turn from Graduale Nobili, a twenty-piece all-female choir from this same city, who previously backed Björk during her Manchester International Festival residency in 2011. They add clever vocal nuance to the classic ‘White Winter Hymnal’, and return for a sumptuously selling rendition of ‘Crack-Up’ to close out the encore.

You can read the quiet grandeur of this Fleet Foxes show two ways; either they’re still a little tentative about a return to the touring circuit after so long away, or they’re endearingly confident that less is more. Either way, this is stirring stuff.

Fleet Foxes @ Harpa, Reykjavík, Iceland Airwaves, Saturday 4 November 2017

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