All words: Kara Capelli — All photos: Tim Snyder
With three distinct versions of modern pop and two fairytales about hitting the internet-age music jackpot, Foster the People, along with The Kooks and Kimbra, made for an entertaining indie-pop super show Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Foster the People, three guys from L.A., with their electronic, percussion-driven indie pop, was propelled to stardom after their hit Pumped Up Kicks went viral in 2010 and crashed the mainstream scene last year. They recorded their debut album Torches after the success of that song, crossed their fingers, and booked a few shows. Little did they know they’d be headlining at places like Merriweather the very next year. To put their ascent into perspective, they played Red Palace on H St. in D.C. in April of 2011. Red Palace has a stage the length of an average D.C. row house living room and space for a couple hundred people at most. Merriweather can hold close to 20,000.
Foster the People was preceded by the catchy post-punk pop rock of the Kooks, with their consistent sound and solid fan base, touring now on the heels of Junk of the Heart, released last September.
And Kimbra, the quirky New Zealand pop princess, has a similar Foster the People Cinderella story, propelled to the mainstream after the unanticipated success of her collaboration Somebody That I Used to Know with Gotye (now up to almost 250,000,000 views, just outside the top twenty of YouTube’s most viewed videos of all time). She just released her debut album, Vows.
Kimbra danced and skipped on stage first, a champagne bottle of a human, sparkle and soul popping and bursting out of her as she plays her voice like an instrument. Always a spectacle, she looked just like the pop princess she is, wearing a teal poofed and ruffled 80’s mini prom dress, flailing her arms, kicking her feet up into the air, and banging her shiny pink tambourine, awkwardly (but adorably) shimmying and shaking all over.
She started with Limbo from Vows, followed by the sultry, hip shaking, red-lips-pouting Good Intent. The men who make up her band sang back up, as her voice undulated between lightly dancing above them and creating beautiful, disparate noises, or belting delightful, sometimes frightening, screams, a voice like Christina Aguilera with the raw intensity of someone like Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells.
After Two Way Street, she slowed it down for Old Flame then sped it back up for the colorful Cameo Lover. She treated us to a slower version of Settle Down, a song that displays her incredible beat-boxing and looping skills, sounding a lot more angsty with the reduced tempo. She ended the set with the upbeat Come into My Head.
Her album and her show are all over the place stylistically, but in both, she’s pure, overwhelming entertainment: her voice, her outfits, her voice, her energy, her voice, her sweet demeanor and 12 inch-wide smile, oh and, did I mention her voice?
Kooks provided some rock-solid balance to the more poptastic Kimbra pizazz and glamour, their last time playing with Foster the People and Kimbra before heading to Europe for the rest of the tour. With a British accented “Hey HEY! How are you guys?” they launched into Time Awaits, from their first album Inside In/Inside Out, with a huge build, fast guitars and instrumental breakdown, then quickly into Is It Me from Junk of the Heart.
Most people hadn’t left their seats or blankets at this point; I assume it was still too early into the three-band set to have to stand up, plus Merriweather makes it so easy to sit. Two girls in the seats in front of me stood up to dance and sing along, dancing like fiends, obnoxiously visible towering above a sea of sitters, wearing ass-revealing high-wasted shorts and belly shirts, which led me to notice that 75% of the people around me were young girls who clearly got a memo that I did not get about this being an Urban Outfitters-only dress code. So THAT’S the demographic that comes to a FTP-Kooks-Kimbra show? I guess.
Eventually more people started standing and moving, and the energy began to build, especially as lead singer Luke Pritchard, in his black skinny jeans and white t-shirt, added more dancing to their show during See the World, leaning into and pointing at the crowd, singing in his playful, boyish voice, which lent itself perfectly to the fun and playful Eskimo Kiss.
Killing Me was a cool, emotional contrast played next, then Rosie, which was a sing along whenever the punchy RO-SIIiiiieeeee parts came along. They later played Runaway from the new album and added in She Moves in Her Own Way and Ooh La from Inside In/Inside Out, ignoring material from Konk, their second album, throughout the show.
They also played the never-released The Saboteur, which I gather is a standard element of this tour, and features Pritchard on piano. Revving up to a growl and punchy breakdown “I am the Saboteur!,” it was cool pop piano rock, and just as we thought it was over, Pritchard ended with a humorous, tongue in cheek falsetto, “I am the Sabatuer,” then a dramatic piano finish.
When they finally hit Junk of the Heart (Happy), the seats and the lawn had filled in and almost everyone had risen to their feet for this hit single. They ended with Naïve from their first album and walked off in the presence of a now very energized, excited crowd.
I have no idea at what point during this 16-month tour Foster the People refined their act. But all of a sudden I looked down, and the rock and roll stage was replaced with all the glitz and precision of a Partridge Family set: matching gold sparkly instruments, no visible wires, and a sound guy measuring the keyboard height with a tape measure. I had to wonder, was this Mark Foster’s dream when he started Foster the People out in L.A.? Or did all this evolve quickly in the process?
I didn’t have a whole lot of time to wonder. Two drummers jumped out on stage and started wailing on their instruments, standing straight up, hands bouncing far above their heads, bodies lurching with primal energy in perfect synchronization to kick off Miss You. Following the remaining two members on stage (two others outside the original three members of the band have joined for the tour), Mark Foster appeared as a dramatic silhouette in the middle of the back part of the stage, legs kicking out in spurts, hips jutting, arms thrashing, as strobes blasted from the stage, pausing a dramatic moment before jumping out to the front to coo and then belt “I really miss you, I miss you, I said.”
First impression? For this kind of immediate star power, this band deserves every bit of the fast track that got them where they are now. The energy started high and didn’t come down throughout the show. And Foster, even within songs, switched between guitar, percussion, keyboard, and dance-floating across the stage, all the while singing lead vocal for every song in his slightly nasally, mostly high pitch voice, that fits perfectly the punchy electro-pop Foster the People style.
The theatrics involved in making the music were accentuated by a bizarre screen on the left side of the stage in the likeness of a tribal mask, that ominously stared into the audience for most of the show, but sometimes did even stranger things like open up to reveal a faceless man with a foam head in the shape of fire. All part of the glitz and drama – their light show was incredible too.
They played through most of the album, moving on to Life on the Nickel, then Helena Beat, and Broken Jaw. I Would Do Anything For You ignited gimmicky heart designs in the light show, and later the song Waste brought bubbles from both the side stage and from the faceless man in the tribal thing with a foam fire on his head.
The delight of the show for me was (and I guess this wouldn’t have been a surprise if I had looked at set lists for this tour) that Kimbra was brought back out on stage with her band for the song Warrior, written and produced while on this tour by Kimbra, Mark Foster and A-Trak.
Kimbra and Mark Foster are a match made in heaven musically and stylistically, except that Kimbra quickly usurped the stage and the attention. She soloed most of the song wearing a new costume: a colorful shiny jacket over a sparkly tight dress that overshadowed Mark Foster’s plain white suit, as dapper and cool as he looked. She killed it from the first note, and once Kimbra was out, spinning and dancing, I had to focus hard to see the others on stage. When I did look at them, their eyes were on her – amazed, awestruck, captivated, as if they had never before laid eyes on this woman with whom they’ve spent months touring.
After an unreleased slow piano jam called Love, Foster the People bounced back to upbeat and theatrics with Call it What You Want, which only led to even more theatrics in the equally catchy Don’t Stop, as the creepy fire head guy in the tribal mask mouth threw paper airplanes down at the band and crowd.
They played another unreleased one: Lovely Motherfucker, which features soulful, almost sorrowful piano, and then Warrant, before Mark decided to regale us with an LONG ASS story about getting pulled by a cop in Cleveland where he grew up. It’s not usually a good thing when someone starts a story with: “I’m going on a tangent, just for a second, humor me.” But we did humor him, and while he was personable and genuine throughout the whole show (and quite grateful to all us fans), this little impromptu story gave him a face, a sense of humor, and a personality all at once. And the mention of Cleveland sparked some dialogue from the crowd, to which he smiled and acknowledged, “I appreciate Ohio, but it’s boring sometimes.” Probably why he went to L.A. to try his luck at music. “Thanks for humoring me. I never usually talk that long. You guys spurred a funny story.” OK, so we got a rare treat. For a show as planned-to-the-last-detail as this one, I’ll take that nudge of intimacy and Midwestern charm.
They ended the set with Houdini, complete with six live, ridiculously dorky looking trumpeters in marching band attire that came in right after the line “Sometimes I want to disappear” where usually there’s a line of high pitched synth. I’m sure you are not, and the audience was not, oblivious to the gaping hole in the show when Foster and the rest of the band exited the stage at this point – the whole reason half the people in the audience had bought tickets in the first place. So we stayed put, anticipating their return.
The first encore song was Ruby, another unreleased piano ballad. I don’t hate it when a band ends a show and comes back for an encore playing an acoustic or slow song after a really upbeat show…usually. Sometimes it works. But man oh jeez, not this time please! It was a nice song, and there was plenty of singing along, but we all breathed a sigh of relief and a collective cheer when they launched into Pumped Up Kicks to end the show.
- The Kooks
- Foster The Ppl