From a stool down near Robin Pecknold's hip, illuminated by the lights of the stage, silky, silvery wisps of steam curled from the rim of a mug of hot tea.
Could there be a better metaphor for Fleet Foxes' long-awaited, sold-out Tampa debut on Thursday at the Ritz Ybor? It was warming, it was welcoming, it felt like a hug in patchouli-scented fleece. You wanted to savor every drop.
And there was so, so much to go around. The show, which doubled as the kickoff to the Seattle indie rockers' 2018 tour, filled the Ritz up and over with a stirring symphony of psychedelic alterna-folk. It was a brawny blend of bold arrangements, instrumentation and vocals that Sasquatch himself would have trouble shouting down.
The warmth of it all was kindled by Pecknold's much-praised voice, the reverb-washed anchor to harmonies usually provided by bassist Christian Wargo, and occasionally guitarist Skyler Skjelset or keyboardist Casey Wescott. Their voices hugged and layered top one another on White Winter Hymnal and Ragged Wood. When they dropped away, leaving Pecknold to sing on his own on the tender Tiger Mountain or soaring Oliver James, the effect was striking, showing just how much those harmonies mean to Fleet Foxes and just how good Pecknold can sound without them.
But outside the singer, the show's unsung star might have been multi-instrumentalist Morgan Henderson, a veteran of the Cave Singers and Blood Brothers, who fleshed the tapestry of each song with castanets, a stand-up bass, a baritone, a flute, a saxophone, take your pick. He brought watery jazz textures to Fool's Errand, jagged atonality to Crack-Up and brassy depth to closer Helplessness Blues.
Fleet Foxes could've skated by with voices and vaguely folkish guitars; the hand-clappy, leg-slappy Mykonos and folksy Blue Ridge Mountains both drew rapturous applause. The incantatory Mykonos, in particular, sounds like a lost CSNY song that Stevie Nicks should've covered in 1980. The formula is familiar as flannel, but it fits them.
But like the band's latest album, Crack-Up, this tour has more going for it than sepia-tinted nostalgia. The set morphed and melded tones and tempos all night, from the country-western trot of Your Protection to the vaguely Celtic, almost medieval progginess of He Doesn't Know Why and The Shrine/An Argument. Parts of it rather called to mind the Moody Blues, a brain-bendy comp the beardos in the crowd might not want to hear, but it fit.
Fleet Foxes' opener was Richmond, Va.'s Natalie Prass, who seamlessly synthesized pop, jazz and smooth rock into her own honey-tinted indie-rock vsion, her voice all carefree and airy.
After her slinky and ever-so-groovy breakthrough single Bird of Prey, she dropped brand-new single Short Court Style, whose delicious disco-funk DNA got her tilting and bobbing across the stage. Just as infectious was closer Ain't Nobody, its burbling bass and grunting electric organ evoking the feel of the sweet, smoky '70s.
Smoke, steam, a whole lot of sound – it all filled the venue all night, and it often enveloped you whole. If only we could get another cup for the road.
— Jay Cridlin