all words: William Alberque
all photos: Shauna Alexander
First off, let me apologize – I missed We Barbarians. Getting to Red Palace is tricky – it’s either a half-hour $20 cab ride, or a $1.50 hour-long, fiendishly complex journey via buses. I had some writing to do, so I opted for the bus and missed the opener.
Second, Grouplove were a surprise and delight. Third, Foster the People may be the best, most natural band you’ll see on stage all year. I would say, and this is a big thing for me to say, better than Cut Copy live. That takes some doing.
Back to Grouplove – five friends, met in Crete, interchanging and supporting male and female vocals, and a fun, light, airy party vibe – Svetlana said they reminded her in a strange way of BYT favorites, the Love Language, and she’s quite right.
The same kind of evident charm, charisma, and camaraderie on stage, the same distinctly American style without resorting to cliché. It makes sense that Florence and the Machine had them open for her – they reflect her all-singing, all-dancing approach to performance.
Grouplove do look an odd bunch on stage, though, with a very Brooklyn vibe interrupted by the bassist/vox Andrew Wessen, who, with his grizzled beard and western hat, looks a bit Stone Temple Pilots, but adds to the energy of the live performance and sings pretty well too.
The vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper is a bundle of energy, cheerleading when she’s not singing or playing (though, sometimes while she is). Her co-vocalist and guitarist Christian Zucconi has a shock of curly black hair and has a strong voice, helming some of the songs, and providing backup as needed. Blond guitarist Sean Gadd and earnest, focused drummer Ryan Rabin have the least scope to misbehave during the songs, but still seem happy to be here.
Even the slow songs are great, but they can’t stay away from the higher-energy, dance party feel. One song (I think it’s called “Chloe”) starts with an Adam Ant stomping drums and Fratelli-esque guitars.; it’s like they’ve assembled their songs out of awesome bits of everything they’ve heard. It’s the kind of music that makes you hug complete strangers, and the feeling inside Red Palace was bordering on the mood inside a great rave. And we still hadn’t seen the best part.
Foster the People were among my highlights of 2010. The song “Pumped Up Kicks” is a monster of a summer jam. Infectious and incurable, it is the most delightful and confusing song of last year – yet it still has managed to elude the top ten in the U.S. and UK. When I first heard it, I thought they were a one-hit wonder, and would dutifully disappear. The 12” b-side has a decent song (“Chin Music for the Unsuspecting Hero”), but I didn’t expect too much more.
Then, I downloaded some demos, including “Helena Beat” (also released on a new CDEP you can get at the shows) and “Downtown,” and realized something extraordinary was happening. Falsettos, time and signature changes – somewhere between Hot Chip and Friendly Fires and Scissor Sisters – these songs were thrilling. I was determined to see them live. When they announced at the Palace, I was in heaven.
I also got to interview (via email), Mark Foster – the man behind the music. He gave quite good answers, and after the show proved to be an affable and intelligent fellow. So here I am, between acts, back-to-the-merch stand with the press of the packed, sold-out crowd in front of me. Christ, they’ve only just signed to a label (Sony, I believe), and the debut album is still a few weeks away. This will be there last show before being flown to London for a couple of nice showcases before flying back for Coachella. Success is imminent.
Fans Alysa and Lauren buttonhole me to let me know how excited they are, having spent the day watching FtP’s video and downloaded their songs. They’re gushing about how cute they are and are about ready to jump on stage (they blagged their way into the show – quite a few people did). FtP take the stage and all eyes are on them. They play a sample of Grouplove’s last song before a very OMD-like icy synth intro. They’ve got five keyboards on stage, in addition to guitars, a bass, a drum kit and a separate floor tom.
Foster is wearing an illuminati-themed shirt (“ni robot, ni slave, ni blanc, ni noir”) and the merch girl behind me coos, “they are ALL ADORABLE.” I don’t know the song, and the band segues immediately into the next one without a pause for applause, with tons of shoegaze guitar and a rushing percussive attack. It’s astounding, and people are arraying themselves both to dance and to watch.
By the third song, there are no unconverted folks – the song has a professionalism that belies the band’s experience, with beautiful piano, synth washes, sampled horns, and Foster, constantly changing his voice from a bratty Jake Shears delivery to an effortless falsetto to a normal singing voice. It’s an unreal atmosphere, and as I look around the audience, three other girls yell at me in unison, “THIS IS AWESOME!” Group hugs all around then.
The fourth song sounds like an American Friendly Fires, with a decidedly groovy attack complimented by the inevitable cowbell and thundering drums. The band starts the audience clapping rhythmically along with the song, and they’re already prepared for the festival circuit. This is going to kill at Coachella. The opening acts are gathered on the side of the stage and keep darting up to help with tambourines or Bez-ing it up along side them. The song builds to a huge end and people can’t contain their enthusiasm. Fostered, indeed.
The fifth song has almost a two-tone feel to it, and Foster again goes through two or three vocal characters in the song and I feel like I’m watching Cut Copy play In Ghost Colours in a room with 100 people. I had no idea.
I know they played “Downtown” somewhere in here, but I didn’t see any setlists, and can’t really tell from my notes. Maybe sixth? Whatever, I do know that seven was the song everyone came to hear, “Pumped Up Kicks.” I couldn’t resist, couldn’t help myself, and sang at the top of my head and danced like a madman. They followed that with “Kids” (it has this maniacal laughter that’s hard to miss), and then, in the most stunning moment of the night, played “Helena Beat.” Here, see for yourself:
Fucking hell – everyone from the two opening acts crashed the stage playing everything they could get their hands on – cowbell, tambourine, picking up drumsticks and hitting anything solid, and dancing, dancing, dancing.
I don’t think a single person had left by this point, and thought the whole room would dissolve into a mass of euphoric, hugging, smiling, sweating, but very, very happy kids.
Dozens of us stayed to talk to Foster, to find out if he’s real. I chatted a bit, had him sign my single – which, charmingly, he did by saying, “thanks for the excellent interview.” What a prince! FUCK! Talented lady-magnets with astounding stage presence – I highly recommend you buy your tickets for the 9:30 Club show right now. This is going to sell out. Expect them in a massive field with 10,000 people near you soon.