SNL's musical guests have also been a mix of big stars and up-and-comers, from such superstars as Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Sting, etc. to occasional acts on the rise, such as Beck, the Shins and the Arcade Fire--which brings us the SNL's most recent musical guest, Fleet Foxes.
After releasing an EP and self-titled debut album on Sub Pop in 2008, Fleet Foxes have received much critical acclaim. Billboard's staff named it album of the year and U.K. publication Uncut recently bestowed its first-ever Uncut Music Award on the album, besting titles by Radiohead and Elbow.
But does a soft-rock band, relying mostly on acoustic guitars and harmonies, make good TV? And if so, would appearing on network TV be good for Foxes?
As for the first question, Fleet Foxes certainly sounded good on SNL--no case of the Ashlee Simpson syndrome here. Judging by their performance, this is a band of real musicians that can play and sing in tune without the aid of pre-recorded backing tracks. In "Mykonos," the first song performed, Foxes' sweet harmonies sounded like a cross between Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and an acoustic version of prog-rockers Yes. In the second song, "Blue Ridge Mountains," they busted out a mandolin, while singer/guitarist Robin Pecknold sang like a sweet-voiced Neil Young.
(Unfortunately, the clips we posted of Fleet Foxes performing on SNL have been removed by NBC, but if you look at the images in the video posts, as well of the photo above, you can catch a glimpse of them in all their "hobo" glory. You'll just have to take our word about how good they sounded on TV.)
Yet those used to having their pop music served up in pretty little packages may have been put off by the band's look. Four of the five Foxes sport scruffy facial hair, with Pecknold garnering the most screen time with his stringy longhair and beard. I know it's 2009 and certainly hipsters and current and former hippies have no problem with such a look--but not everyone is so open minded. For example, I'll cite the reaction of a teenaged family member, who happens to be a fan of such pop sensations as Katy Perry, Lady GaGa and Panic At The Disco. "They're annoying and they look like hobos," he said, as I studied the band's performance in all its high-definition glory on my big-screen TV. It might be a superficial response, but I'm sure he's not the only one that had it. And as much as I find Fleet Foxes' music incredibly appealing, I will consider the notion that they're a band that's better heard than seen. One wonders if appearing on network TV has ruined the band's mystique.
While I'm not calling Fleet Foxes' SNL appearance a sell-out, it just seems that a band wishing to embrace its indie status would want to avoid mainstream conventions such as SNL. Maybe they'd be better off to just continue to make amazing albums and weird videos featuring claymation and farm animals.
"Obviously prizes are not something you should think about or hope for when you're making music," Pecknold recently told Uncut. "I hope our next album isn't like an awards grab, like the equivalent of a Clint Eastwood movie, y'know, Oscar bait. If we set out to try and win album of the year, we'll end up sounding like Coldplay or something."
Sure, Pecknold's talking about awards, but replace that with "TV appearances" in the first sentence and you have to wonder if the same doesn't hold true.
Also, faithful SNL viewers will note that Coldplay--the band whose sound Pecknold doesn't want to emulate--has played SNL not once, but three times. While some will certainly argue that merely playing the same TV show will not contribute to the band going the Coldplay route, I'd say if Fleet Foxes really want nothing to do with that sound or scene, they should steer clear of network TV. What do you think?
- Fleet Foxes