(Also, an album review of “…And Star Power” is linked here!”) ~R.
Ruminations on FOXYGEN Live @ Atlanta’s The Loft @ Center Stage on Wed. Oct. 1st. AND AGAIN the next night at Exit-In, Nashville on Thursday Oct. 2nd 2014. (With crappy iPhone 4 photos by yours truly which caught the blurry, thrashing, sweaty, danceable energy while the real photographer got a last minute paying gig shooting race cars…..) ~R.
There’s not a performing artist out there that couldn’t learn something from watching Foxygen live. That’s something about stage presence and serving up a lot of creative internal focus for the audience to marvel at, then enjoy sumptuously at this excessive banquet. Oh yeah, and all they work with is their own bodies, their voices, some standard musical instruments and a little mascara. It’s a nearly chaotic, unpredictable bunch of energy funneled into a tight rhythm section and a well thought out melodic framework.
Some Foxygen history for the uninitiated;
My first live Foxygen show in Atlanta on Oct. 1st 2014 came after a couple of years of following this band online, including their first two albums, their live & studio adventures via YouTube and interviews & clashes with entertainment press. A few phenomenal videos were in that mix interspersed with a lot of very raw material. Sometimes it’s the raw material that best shows the underlying talent and potential behind any endeavor. I use that stuff a lot in deciding whether to book an act I haven’t actually seen live. Foxygen’s studio work so far has been giving us back something we’ve been missing since the heyday of the vinyl LP. Foxygen caught my attention and kept it and I’ve been at this observational post for a LONG time… (like, “I saw Led Zeppelin live in 1973 when I was fifteen” long time.) The occasionally tragic drama accompanying the last couple years of touring for this band is nothing to ever wish You’d see happen, especially to a young artist but admittedly it came with a high entertainment value not unlike watching grand prix crashes or downhill skiing mishaps. After Sam France’s dramatic stage dive/fall last year (there are reports it was both) which shattered his leg, sending him into emergency surgery and ending their biggest national tour up to that point, there was a lot of speculation as to whether they would be back or not.
The rapid recovery time before Their next live concerts was surprising but there were reports of moments during those first return shows where it looked like Sam was still reeling with the pain of recovery and was not at all ready to come back. During this time some interviews surfaced in which Jonathan Rado admitted that they were too Young and totally without the experience to have been snatched up by music industry management and catapulted into national and international touring when they were fresh out of high school. This kind of honesty and self apprisal by the core band members served to cement my opinion that Foxygen was about to do something really worth watching. In an era when the most commercially successful “stars” out there have been totally manufactured for pre-packaging It was invigorating to see and hear the kind of un-pretentious honesty that seems to have surfaced only a few times in rock n roll history. The EARLY Rolling Stones, days, the Kinks and maybe a much happier and less tragic Nirvana type of energy coming from performers in their early twenties who are capable of captivating a multi generational audience gives a certain hope that we will have at least one gigantic writhing pile of real rock’n roll onstage in a future that is trying to define itself as an electronic push button vending machine of pre-fabricated entertainment. After Sam France’s recovery time a video surfaced from last years Coachella festival in which most of Foxygen’s entire set was released online complete with between songs breaks and the whole thing was absolutely riveting. That unedited video seems to have vanished tho, and was replaced by just a few songs with the breaks edited out. Not only did they return with power after their fan base had time to absorb and internalize the substantial nature of most of the recorded songs from their first two studio albums but there was now an element of tension, an apprehension of “what the hell is Sam France going to do next?” One moment during the Coachella video when Sam jumped precariously up onto a stage monitor and glared into the audience caused some real gasps from the fans who have been following their adventures.
The Atlanta Show
The first few opening minutes were the most “theatrical” experience I’ve had in a long time and that’s nothing to do with stage props or makeup but more to do with acting like true rock stars. While the full band assembled onstage the audience built up a tangible static charge. Once they were all in place except for a conspicuously absent front man, Sam France’s abrupt entrance set off a spark in the audience and instantly the show was on. Sam France’s face onstage was the trigger that set off an explosion. I sort of had an epiphany of what Foxygen meant by naming their new album “…And Star Power” at that moment. Sam France was IT. Everything whirled around his entrance and his non-stop slamming the audience over the head with whatever it is that he’s got, whatever it is that we all paid good money and endured Atlanta’s traffic & parking-lot hell to escape into. The band, or more obviously France, seemingly assumed this “Star Power” persona at the beginning of this tour and then actually pulled it off. The precarious results could’ve gone either way… Foxygen live now comes across as a much more seasoned and confident and even (holy crap!) “professional” performing band than just over a year ago.
And then after I wrote this I read the Issue magazine interview with Sam & Rado…
“STAR POWER IS A PUNK BAND THAT TAKES OVER THE ALBUM AND BY THE END OF THE ALBUM HAS TAKEN OVER THE BAND. AND IT’S ALSO A RADIO STATION, A MYSTERIOUS RADIO STATION RUN BY ALIENS.” — SAM FRANCE
If there’s any one thing I would tell You about a Foxygen show I would say, see them up close if possible. The smallish Atlanta venue “The Loft at Center Stage” was a great interactive experience despite some technical glitches with the sound on the first song and a broken mic. stand halfway through and the lack of any type of risers giving the audience members a better sight line than straight through the crowd. Oh I forgot to mention this is a high-energy show. Don’t be fooled by the soft pop nature of some of their recorded songs. Their set has more in common with an Iggy Pop set than any of the languid commercial products that are choking out the vision of younger audiences .People in the Atlanta audience were friendly and talking to their newfound compatriots about the band. You could sort of tell that this crowd had done their homework and knew they were in for something special. After a few songs I realized the importance of the tactile nature of this event and moved up close enough to the stage that Sam actually slammed into me after one of his signature audience dives. (I saw a girl goose him on the ass when he was climbing back onstage which would be a totally unacceptable thing to do to any female performer. ) I noticed he wore a wrist brace for both shows and I think I saw a little blood on an elbow. Staying up close to the stage and it being my first live Foxygen show are probably the main factors that gave me more of a charge out of the Atlanta show than Nashville, even though the venue in Nashville was a lot more comfortable and the stage was more accessable in a lot of ways.
The next night in Nashville:
The band’s decision to put the back up singers on the front edge of the stage gives some insight into their determination to create a spectacle…
I planned weeks in advance to see both of these shows to get a more uniform dosage of Foxygen live. But Nashville’s day of show I saw that Foxygen was onstage at 11pm CENTRAL time and I live in the Eastern time zone with two hours drive to and from the Exit -In which meant that they wouldn’t be onstage until midnight my time and after the show I had to drive two hours to get home. I almost canceled the Nashville trip, but at the last minute I realized the night in Atlanta was one of the most invigorating shows I’ve been to in ages, that it actually gave me some hope that this band would help carry us into the future on a wave of real performance rock n roll… I said f*ck it I won’t get this chance again maybe ever, so I drove over Monteagle mountain to Nashville. This was a worthwhile decision despite having to crash out in my car for a couple hours in a truck stop parking lot on the way home. .
One highlight was getting to chat with Jonathan Rado briefly after the event. I had a late night lunch and coffee after the show at Café Coco, the all night hangout just behind the Exit-In. Nashville’s Elliston Place area is home neighborhood of Vanderbilt University and is swarming with well-mannered college age kids of every contemporary stripe. It’s a much more pleasant city environment than downtown Atlanta. As I was leaving, their shiny, orange tour bus was still loading. Rado and his singer/dancer girlfriend Jackie were hanging out with a small clutch of fans who were lingering to chat. When I mentioned that Sean Ono Lennon whom I’d met earlier in the year was touring in a van much smaller than the Foxygen tour bus, Rado almost apologetically said “but there’s twelve of us and it really wouldn’t work out in a smaller van….” There were nine people onstage for this Foxygen tour. Rado, if You read this thanks again for putting together such a dynamic entourage in an era where many bands are cutting down to duo’s on tour to save money on the road.
The opening act of the evening at Exit-In Nashville had this to say:
Both of these venues are in the neighborhood of 400-600 capacity, probably neither were completely sold out but had good full house both week-nights. And once they got to DC the 9:30 club holds 1200 people and from the photos I’ve seen it looked pretty full too. People are catching on. I expect to see them in much larger rooms next tour.
The band’s decision to put the back up singers on the front edge of the stage gives some insight into their determination to create a spectacle since these ladies not only provide backing harmonies but also a coordinated high energy, continuous dancing chorus line that serves as a balanced antithesis to Sam France’s chaotic movement around, on top of and in front of the stage as well as some splat! moments on the floor. Not knowing what Sam might do is an element of excitement for fans who have been following the last couple of tours and there really is no safety net. It’s up to his fans now to protect the performer when he launches himself into the crowd. God bless him, I hope he stays safe and gets stronger for all his athletic efforts to entertain us. The Nashville set was punctuated by a beardie dude from the audience who climbed onstage and managed to give Sam a kiss before surfing off onto the outstretched hands of the audience.
The solid punchy rhythm section by Shaun Fleming on drums and Justin Nijssen on bass cannot be ignored. They bind the melodies together into a vehicle that causes You to move your ass. But Rado’s keyboards and occasional guitar puts him solidly in place as the band member whose lead instrumentals keep everything focused. The live songs from their very memorable “We are the 21st. Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” album anchor the live show with highly recognizable songwriting hooks. By the time I saw them for the first time they were no longer an unknown act to most audience members. Atlanta especially seemed to be the more focused of the two audiences although Nashville appeared to be very much in the spirit of discovering a new type of joy. Both events satisfyingly recreated some of the energy that started the whole rock show phenomenon in the beginning. After seeing those two shows back to back I’ll go see Foxygen again whenever I get the chance.
Next Up: my long and winding review of Foxygen’s new Album
“…And Star Power.”
ADDENDUM: At the time this article was finalizing THIS VIDEO of the new song “Brooklyn Police Station” was broadcast from WGN’s morning show in Chicago. Be sure to turn the volume way UP! Pretty weird that ANY local TV station’s morning program would air something of this magnitude of rebellious energy. This performance is almost SCARY and full-on carries all the energy of their current tour. It’s close to being one of the tour performances… heck it IS one of these shows. It’s like being right down front at the Atlanta show on Oct. 1st Yeah, this is what it was like just add several hundred fans packed around them and extend the whole energetic brawl out for what seemed like a couple of hours… ~R.
Here’s a few interviews from other reference points…
“We lived through every rock n roll cliche”
~High Road Touring
Issue Magazine Interview with Foxygen
Or just google up a whole bunch of Foxygen interviews..
AND here is …
POSSIBLY THE GREATEST ROCK ‘N ROLL STAGE SHOT OF 2014 by Washington DC photographer Richie Downs. Foxygen’s subsequent show at the 9:30 club. Click the photo for the full-screen view. (not published to the public yet pending permissions)
Jonathan Rado & Sam France: Together they can probably kick any of the other band members out and still keep Foxygen intact, but why would they want to? This lineup kicks ass. Especially the bassist Justin Nijssen and the drummer Shaun Fleming who fronts his own band, “Diane Coffee” who are starting to get their own attention. The whole rhythm section works incredibly cooperatively in coming up with the bounce energy that keeps everything rolling along .
The 9:30 club in Washington DC holds 1200 people BTW so it looks like quite a few people in the DC area were reading up on their current rockstar notes and decided to give Foxygen a listen…..
These last 3 photos are courtesy of Washington DC photographer Richie Downs You should hire him to shoot pix for You whenever something interesting is happening in his home base. http://richiedowns.com/book-a-shoot
Piper Ferguson is an illustrious LA based photographer who gets to shoot lots of talented, underground glamorous people before the rest of us even hears of them. Check her website and twitter out here:
www.piperferguson.com & twitter.com/piperferguson
All other photos in this article except the ones from twitter were shot by the author/publisher of this piece, Robin Merritt on his sh*tty iPhone 4.