Published Oct 13, 2014Last year Foxygen, the psych-tinged project of childhood buddies Jonathan Rado and Sam France, expanded to a live quintet, a decision that nearly tore the band apart with rumours of infighting and breakups (both romantic and musical). Doing their best to subvert all expectations, Foxygen decided to expand further: the live band is now a nine-piece, including a trio of backup singers straight out of an '80s workout video. While this expansive setup could have lead to diluted focus and sloppy coordination, the band worked well together, although few could notice: all eyes were on France, the explosively energetic lead singer.
Despite having fallen off the stage and broken his leg at a gig last year, France's stage presence was as rambunctious and effervescent as ever, but with a particular mean streak toward a series of microphones that he kept damaging throughout the set, much to the chagrin of the venue staff and anyone he flipped off during his resulting freakouts every time he realized his mic was no longer working. But France was also endearing: his childlike intonation and his referring of the sound technician as "Mr. Monitor Man" were enough to make anyone coo, and his enthusiasm and crowd interactions seemed genuine.
The set was mostly comprised of tunes from their newly released double LP …And Star Power, and 2013 breakout hit We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, infusing a wild synergy due to the live setting. Behind France and the backup singers was a five-piece band, led by France's partner-in-crime Jonathan Rado on keys, and the quintet helped hold down the fort even though all eyes were on the vocalists. From lovelorn soul on "Coulda Been My Love" to the '70s pop rock of "Brooklyn Police Station," the band committed to them all, crafting tight sonic packages that were still notable despite an occasionally muddy mix. While the set had an early misstep with ambling, formless noisy freakout "Can't Contextualize My Mind" due to the first of France's mic meltdowns, they rebounded with the punchy, jangling "Shuggie" to kick off the back half of the performance.
The set really came together at the end: …And Star Power cut "Everyone Needs Love" rounded out the set proper with earnest, synth-glazed platitudes that twisted and turned throughout '60s-informed passages that were atmospherically helped by the backup singers. The encore, Ambassadors single "No Destruction" and "Teenage Alien Blues" from their first major release, Take the Kids Off Broadway, was great, and the ten-minute-long "Blues" carried on without a hitch, despite the many pitfalls that could have arisen with a raucous nine-piece led by a singer whose focus seemed to be simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. The band committed to their retro ambience, both with their sonic references and deliberate on-stage chaos, and managed to stay connected with the audience despite the larger stage of le National. Foxygen possesses a strong childlike mischievousness and, while it can sometimes distract or drag them down like on their occasionally bloated new LP, it works best live.