words by William Alberque
photos by Dakota Fine
It’s not often you get two bites at the proverbial apple. I reviewed Foster the People back in February, when they headlined the Red Palace. That was an amazing show – revelatory that a band so early in their career could not only ably pull off a headlining slot at a small but excellent club, but also poise themselves perfectly to return to greater glory. And return they did, just four months later, to conquer a sold-out 930 Club with astonishing ease.
This show was simply fantastic, and the contrast to last time was massively in scope. Last time: they had some decent merch – a shirt, an EP, a 12”. This time, they have their debut album Torches and a full line of shirts and tote bags to take home. When they were at the Palace, the band members crowded their many keyboards and drums up on that cramped little stage, and proceeded to kill the curious crowd. At the 930, they had far more room to move, but still brought no backdrop, no lightshow, no strobes – just the assuredness and poise that comes from knowing they KILLED it at Coachella. There must be something about winning over a crowd – only some of whom had ever heard of you – numbering in the tens of thousands to make walking onto the stage at the 930 Club seem a doddle in comparison.
Canon Blue had the unenviable task of preceding FtP, but they acquitted themselves well. It seemed an odd choice for an opener – rather trebly indie rock and roll, a four-piece, with a male vocalist singing in a curiously high register with occasional falsetto, the band playing songs that tended to build in energy, (you know the loud/quiet thing that is the indie-pop version of Mogwai’s aesthetic) with the occasional dash of keyboards and the ever-present pounding drums. The first two songs had me curious, the third one won me over, and the fourth bored me a bit. They are joined by a flautist– from, I’m going to guess, the first opener? (whom I missed) – adding a…I’m not quite sure what that added. Hm. And, for the life of me, I can’t understand any of the lead singer’s vainglorious attempts at song intros – “this one is called shvhvmthtch” seems to be the gist of it. Like he’s swallowing a badger while introducing his songs. Which is an odd thing to do.
Anyway, the place seemed pretty empty early on – by the end of the set, it seemed barely half full. And, this didn’t seem like the type of thing that the sun-kissed crowd would enthusiastically embraced. I say sun-kissed because they all seem impossibly tanned, wearing shorts and flip-flops, boys in bleached out baseball caps and girls with skinny, tanned arms. It’s a pretty crowd, looking like an Abercrombie and Fitch ad or a California beach party wandered into the club by mistake. And wandered in en-masse as soon as Canon Blue left the stage – now this place is PACKED.
The crowd matches Foster the People’s sunny vibe. And, crimeny, that’s a sunny vibe they have. Okay, just go ahead and read my previous review. That tells you most of what you need to know. The big difference is, Foster the People went off to the festival circuit as a great indie band and came back as the band that you want to hate because they are SO FUCKING GOOD. If FtP had one collective face, it would be smirking slightly. And you still wouldn’t punch it, because they deserve every modicum of praise.
I know – if you’re into indie music, you’re sick to death of “Pumped up Kicks.” That’s your own fault, though, because a) it’s AMAZING and b) they have another dozen fucking classic songs. Classic. Helena Beat, Downtown, I Would Do Anything for You – these are amazing song, worthy of a much more popular band. I think a dream two-fer would be FtP with Yeasayer, but that’s the topic of another post.
Yet again, I have random people telling me how much they love this band – this time, a couple back from Coachella where, as I mentioned, they apparently killed it. It’s kind of charming. I’m much more of a loner when I go to shows, so it’s all the more remarkable when people insist on talking to me. And this couple is so absurdly attractive that I assume they’ve mistaken me for a casting agent. I don’t mind. The band alternate between drum-pounding, irresistible dance songs and building, more emotional pieces. By three songs in, the whole crowd are in raptures, dancing and singing along. As I’ve described before, they’re in a sweet spot between Hot Chip and the Scissor Sisters, and the crowd – the crowd. I’m describing them as though they’re something other than me. But I’m reacting just as viscerally, just as physically and without inhibition, as they all are
It’s six songs before I hear something that I’m not as impressed with. It’s a bit too 80s, a bit too mid-tempo and uncharacteristically clichéd for what they do. The next song delves into an emotional, slow-burning feeling, only to switch without a pause into a high-energy dance party. I feel like I’m seeing an American Friendly Fires, with the beach party feeling both overwhelming and beautiful at the same time. “Pumped Up Kicks” has its inevitable run out, and the set ends with another high-tempo track, the audience as one with their hands in the air, dancing and smiling so much. The encore comes, and it’s Helena Beat. I take care of my tab with Paul and head out, sated with the pleasure of yet another great dance party night.
In spite of only having one album, in spite of the short time this band has been around, Foster the People manage to cram more joy into an hour than most bands will do in a year. In spite of the frattish gloom of the bridge-and-tunnel crew, this is a fantastic night out. Can’t wait until they come back again in the fall.