I spent a few days mulling over the idea of going to see Foxygen at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood (Saturday, April 8, 2017). Obviously, since I’m writing a post about it, I eventually decided to go! I’m not particularly familiar with their music, though I remember checking out a couple of their songs on YouTube after the album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic came out they were being hyped in the music press. More recently, I’ve been impressed by Foxygen multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado producing Do Hollywood, a fantastic debut album by my latest favorite find, The Lemon Twigs. I spent some of Saturday streaming Foxygen’s newest album Hang, finding the music, or even parts of the songs, at some moments appealing and at others boldly challenging my perception of the song’s aesthetic. I understand filtering your music through the influences from musicians whose footsteps push deep into the mud of music history, but I feel that parts of this album are so superficially contrived and slickly produced that I am left wondering if it is meant to be serious or satirical. Are they paying homage and creating a musical statement or cramming as many references into the album as they can as if checking items off a grocery list? Whatever, it is a swirling calliope of an album, alive with colors, textures, and depth and listening to it will definitely leave you feeling something. After seeing the live show it seems that the album is much like the band. The musical talent is clear, but I wonder if the eccentricity of the multi-faceted, enigmatic Sam France is authentic or put-on for the audience, like Bowie’s Thin White Duke. But again, whatever, it is fascinating to watch.
The show was scheduled to start at 9pm with opening band Kingdom of Not. I missed most of their act, but I caught their last song as I was entering the venue and let’s just say I didn’t feel too bad about missing their set. If the majority of their songs were anything like the last one, I have to say it was not my taste at all.
I positioned myself on the left side of the house so I would be in between Sam and Jonathan, but with my lateness and the eager crowd already in position, I was probably a half dozen rows of people back from the stage. I actually managed to be behind a pocket of people who were of average height, so I did get a few photos of the musicians, but between the enthusiastic dancing of the crowd around me and the random taller person it was difficult to take any well-crafted shots.
The second opener was Gabriella Cohen, who started out on stage with bandmate Kate “Babyshakes” Dillon. They were all right, playing in an indie pop style with Gabriella’s distinct vocals straddling that edge of interesting and tiresome and Babyshakes providing consummate high harmonies that added flavor to the songs. The lyric writing was simplistic and youthful – such that I wanted Gabriella to have greater life experiences so that she could write more in-depth and complex lyrics. She played her Fender guitar adequately, but there is definitely room for growth there too. The addition of Victor on drums and Igor on bass after the first song, improved the listener experience, especially Igor’s smooth bass lines, and by the end of their set the audience was grooving and receptive. Thankfully they were better than Kingdom of Not! Their set, as I could make it out, was as follows:
- “I’m Miserable Baby” link is to a different live performance of this song, but it aptly encapsulates the sound.
- “Downtown” this was a sleepy sort of song, particularly reminiscent of teen songs from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Example of lyrics, “Please don’t ever let me down again because I don’t know what I’d do.” Gabriella and Babyshakes were doubled up on guitars.
- “Sever the Walls” from Full Closure and No Details or “Updated Regurgitated Sever” from updated regurgitated sever, not sure which it qualifies as. This song continues with the same musical vein. “Close up your eyes and think of a time that was better.” Babyshakes played on the keyboard.
- Couldn’t figure out what the next song was but it started out with her calling out the city names Dallas, New York, and LA and with the repeated lyric, “He’s got a good reputation to have.”
- The next song she introduced by saying, “Here comes the pop stuff.” Remarking that she had tailored the set list for LA.” That sort of irritated me because L.A. has much more than pop music going on. I’m not sure what this song was called but it had lyrics such as, “When I see you will you see me too? … Lost and confused…I wanted to die … I wanted romance.” There were a lot of bouncing chords on the guitar and its performance helped to build the momentum of the show.
- The next song was one of the more interesting ones of the night. Lyrics mentioned, “Saw you in remission, saw you going in.” At the end of the song, Babyshakes took over, speaking a brief story about the futility of trying to be something you are not with a fruity analogy. “It’s impossible to be a banana if you are a plum. Be yourself.”
- “I Don’t Feel So Alive” again from updated regurgitated sever or from Full Closure and No Details, however you want to look at it. Lyrics, “Well I don’t feel so alive I might break down and cry, I read a book…do you get high on a Saturday night? Why don’t we get together.” This one is oddly catchy and its performance was the best of the bunch.
Foxygen filled the stage with a five person horn section, percussionist, bassist, guitar player, and keyboard player. Jonathan started out the night on an additional keyboard, occasionally swapping over to a Fender guitar. This was an impressive group of musicians who successfully interpreted the recorded versions of Foxygen’s songs to create dynamic and entertaining renditions for the captivated, ardent audience. As ringleader, Sam danced, posed, swaggered, and punched the air as he belted out the numbers. Shape-shifting in style and voice from one iconic rock star to the next, a little Bowie here, a little Elvis Costello there, moves like Jagger sometimes, then sounds like Lou Reed or is it Todd Rundgren? Adding vocal support and having lots of fun, playing the girl that everyone would like to dance with, was the talented Jackie Cohen. She released an EP on Bandcamp last year that Jonathan Rado and the Lemon Twigs played on, which sounds pretty great, so check that out: Tacoma Night Terror. Foxygen’s set list was as follows:
- “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, an audience member created this live music video from this performance at the Fonda. The band kicks off the concert with their mission statement.
- “San Francisco” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Jackie Cohen joined them on stage during this song.
- “Shuggie” from …And Star Power
- “Follow the Leader” from Hang, the group of people in front of me were passing around a joint and enthusiastically jumping up and down to this song. They were well into it, but I’m not sure why smoking was being allowed inside the theatre (there was more than one person/group doing this). Where was security? They made people throw away their gum and sharpies upon entering the theatre, but apparently it was okay for people to light something up. The theatre manager inside me was screaming, “Fire hazard!”
- “Avalon” from Hang, the link is to another show during this tour, but will give you an idea of how the song sounds live and the stage set up
- “Mrs. Adams” from Hang
- “America” from Hang
- “On Lankershim” from Hang, i.e., the song that has a piano bit at the opening that sounds like they are about to play Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
- “Upon a Hill” from Hang, this song followed seamlessly from the previous one
- “Trauma” from Hang
- “Rise Up” from Hang, link to a fan shot video from this concert. I’ve borrowed a lyric from this song for the title of this post. I chose this one because I respect what I think is the message of this song, to honestly experience and actively participate in life. Furthermore, I suggest that you listen carefully to this band and see what you think about them yourself. After this song the band left the stage without comment.
- ENCORE “On Blue Mountain” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
- “No Destruction” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,
One of the highlights of the show was hearing this song that I didn’t know and found myself thoroughly enjoying live.
- “How Can You Really” from …And Star Power