Not much to say about the actual performance because it was so good, so passionate and so resonating that I don't want to be become redundant.
The opener was the Walkmen and, despite hearing them in passing previously and not really being terribly impressed, I have to say they left me pretty indifferent. The lead guitarist did have a sweet shiny midnight blue and white Rickenbacker that looked vintage, though. Nothing more to say, really.
Walking up Gayley street to get in line, I could hear the band's soundcheck harmonies echoing out of the theatre, through the city blocks and into the fog. The music on the house stereo leading up to the band's entrance had Robin Pecknold's fingerprints all over it: Van Morrison, David Axelrod and John Coltrane, amongst other things. Just provided the perfect atmosphere.
It was clear that the crowd was on the band's side, as they received a standing ovation before a single note was played. The song selection in the setlist had pretty much everything I would have asked for, had the band consulted me. 'The Plains/Bitter Dancer' —what I initially thought to be an odd opening selection— worked incredibly well. They played almost all of Helplessness Blues ('The Cascades' and 'Someone You'd Admire' were left out) amidst a selection of strong older favorites. The fluidity of the live arrangements, especially when they play those medleys was just eye-poppingly good. Even if the material wasn't as strong as it is, you'd still have to marvel at how well they played it. The medley on 'White Winter Hymnal'/'Ragged Wood' and the perfect execution of 'The Shrine'/'An Argument' (with an added extra verse from Robin and a skronky epic bass clarinet solo by Morgan Henderson) into 'Blue Spotted Tail' were definitely highlights. 'Blue Ridge Mountains' came late in the set, during the encore after a new song Robin sang solo, and it sounded just unbelievably good. The harmonies and huge dynamics were surely only enhanced by the Greek Theatre's architecture, as something like 'Sim Sala Bim' just became this gargantuan wall of sound that left more than a few people with goosebumps — myself included.
Other things that stood out to me:
Josh Tillman is an absolute BEAST on drums. The guy has provided the driving backbone that makes the band's music, especially when played live, even more passionate than on records.
Christian Wargo's bass is awesome. The tone he gets out of it is great, sure, but just the look of it wins for me.
The band has FUN when they are playing. They are an extremely tight and disciplined unit, but there was no shortage of between song banter, jokes and just general goofing around going on. You can tell they are loving every second of it up there and it really comes across in how well they play the songs.
Maybe it's just because I was down front, but they were fucking LOUD. Man, I never thought you could genuinely rock out with acoustic instruments like that.
Overall, I can't imagine a better showing from them. The entire time, I kept thinking to myself, "Yeah, this is what I think of when I hear their records." If nothing else, it's proof that they should release a live album, because the material sounds just as good when they play it live as it does on the records (and, in some cases, it's better).
In a quieter between song moment, someone a ways behind me yelled out, "You're one of the best bands of this generation." Robin looked up briefly, quickly looked back down and adjusted his pedals, obviously trying to hide a huge smile. His humility wouldn't let him acknowledge the comment out loud, but his genuine earnestness shone through — which is why people say such things in the first place.