Foxygen @ Paradise Rock Club 3.25.17
by Brianna Caleri (Music History & Analysis), published April 15th 2017
It’s Saturday at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, and I don’t feel quite like I’m dreaming, which, believe it or not, is what I had previously been expecting. It’s far too lucid a dissociation. I do feel like someone else might be dreaming – someone I love and trust yet somehow don’t know very well – and I am in it. Sam France, androgynous frontman of Foxygen and three-way amalgam of Eric Nally, Chris Fleming and Noel Fielding, is preaching to a frenzied congregation. He drawls the mantra, “On Blue Mountian, God will save you,” sprawled atop his own mountain of fans holding him overhead.
Behind him, the default red curtain backdrop of the Paradise is working coincidental wonders for the band’s characteristic acid-musical aesthetic. The rest of the set is adorned only by bright white-yellow LED strips, and packed with a cast of musicians including Jonathan Rado, the other permanent half of Foxygen. It’s an understated visual masterpiece considering the sonic spectacle it supports. France and his adorable supporting vocalist Jaclyn Cohen start off in matching white clothes and silver glitter on their cheeks. France has applied hot pink shadows under his eyes. Later, they appear in sensible black and white 60’s mod ensembles. They spring through a variety of courtly dances whenever they get a break and let the band take off.
France’s charisma is one of a quirky vampiric entertainer that trends toward the matronly: a distinctly more approachable Frankenfurter. Responding to audience tumult in the front row, he stops the band and peers into the crowd. When he asks, “Who’s hurt?” he seems mostly concerned and subtly accusatory. He makes “a deal” with the audience: “If no one fights, I’ll play my beautiful fucking music.” The ethos that cuts through the performance is what grounds Foxygen from its theatrical heights. If there was anything disappointing about this show it’s that, for me, San Francisco has lost its absurd, nightmarish quality in favor of a plainly absurd one. It stopped feeling sarcastic, and starting feeling…right. It seems I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.
The remaining theatrical heights, however, are spectacularly reached. While most audiences would expect the kooky frontman to be the wildest attraction, it is when he’s removed that the band reaches its peak orchestral extravagance. During the costume change in “America” the band departs on a stylistically shifting call-and-response that breaks whatever remainder of a fourth wall there might be at a musical performance. Rado has limelight moments every few songs, during which he shreds through guitar solos that could be minutes longer were it not for fear of melting faces. Of course, his shining moment is during “Rise Up” and he more than lives up to it. And never has there been such enthusiasm for a tuba at a rock concert than when it was broken out for “On Lankershim.” Everyone onstage seems pleasantly surprised to hear the chant: “Tuba! Tuba!” They close out the evening with an appropriately long encore, including a heady southern-slanting jam on “No Destruction” and landing on “How Can You Really.”
Before the set, I heard an excited fan predict, “These people are not ready for what’s about to happen.” Ready for what, I wonder? Was his past experience so much more outlandish? Or is it more shocking, in a way, to realize our psychedelic fantasies are so grounded in reality?