An artist has to have a pretty substantial following to fill up the Greek Theatre, with its seating capacity of more than 8,000. Once the fan base is built though, the Greek is no respecter of persons as bands young and old, established and brand new are scheduled to please the Berkeley crowd. Foster the People gained almost instant fame last year due to their incredibly successful debut album Torches, which played out of virtually every car speaker last summer. Where the Beach Boys, one of the most popular and legendary American bands of the 20th century, stood only four weeks ago, recent chart-toppers Foster the People followed in the their footsteps, playing the Greek Theatre to the delight of a full, dance-ready crowd.
Kimbra, the object of Gotye’s attention on his smash hit “Somebody That I Used to Know,” kicked the evening off with an impressive display of her vocal prowess. Shortly thereafter, Mayer Hawthorne took the stage, wearing a dapper red tuxedo and shades. The Michigan native and his highly capable backing band, the County, filled the air with the thick sound of soul and funk. One part Smokey Robinson and one part Hall & Oates, Hawthorne cheerfully snapped and side-stepped his way through his modern motown songs such as “The Walk” and “No Strings.”
As the roadies packed Mayer Hawthorne’s gear and prepped for Foster the People, individuals of all ages packed the amphitheater — college kids, teen girls, and 50-year-olds alike, coming out to enjoy the band’s brand of dance rock. They soon took the stage and immediately capitalized on Hawthorne’s good vibes, launching right into “Miss You” as lead singer Mark Foster writhed and stomped his feet to the strobe lights.
The band effectively sprinkled a modern flavor onto ‘70s-era pop sounds. Songs like “I Would Do Anything For You” featured electronic blips and bleeps along with its classic “ooh-la-la” choruses, wistful piano chords, and killer bass line. And “Call It What You Want” could easily pass as a disco hit 30 years ago — it was simply impossible not to shake your hips to the beat, especially with Foster leg-kicking his way across the stage.
The L.A.-based group played every song from Torches — though the album has a fairly weak second half, these lesser tracks translated well onto the stage. The impressive light show, set display and visual effects (bubbles!), amplified songs such as “Houdini” and “Life on the Nickel.” However, though Foster the People’s devotion to thumping, dance-worthy beats works most of the time, not even a deluge of paper airplanes thrown from the stage could save the incessant, pounding bass drums from getting old after a while.
Kimbra came back out at one point to help the band sing “Warrior,” a collaboration between Kimbra, Foster the People and Canadian DJ, A-Trak. It was surreal to see Kimbra, contributor to 2012’s biggest summer hit “Somebody That I Used to Know,” side by side with Mark Foster, singer on 2011’s inescapable summer anthem “Pumped Up Kicks.” The singers meshed well together, displaying the best that current indie pop has to offer.
The high point of the whole show commenced just before the encore when four members of the Cal Marching Band bounded onto the stage to play along to “Houdini.” In a word, it was heartwarming — not only because one of the trumpet players was jumping up and down out of sheer elation, but because of the band’s sentimental nod to UC Berkeley, allowing students in attendance to feel a connection with the show.
After departing the stage amid hearty calls for an encore, Mark Foster reentered, sat at the piano, and played a new track called “Ruby.” Foster showcased his remarkable vocal ability, hitting sky-high notes over piano chords reminiscent of Elton John or Queen. He belted out the melody as his bandmates joined him on the closing chords, effectively winning the hearts of all young females in attendance. As the song died, everyone knew what was coming next. Imagine becoming good friends with a college roommate, eventually getting sick of him around finals week, going home for the summer and then embracing him like an old friend upon your return to school. That’s what it was like to hear “Pumped Up Kicks” again. We had all grown tired of it, forgotten about it and then quickly remembered why we loved it when that signature bass line kicked in.
Foster the People have a tendency to rely on the same musical ideas — pounding bass drums and sound effects cannot save songs from mediocrity, especially when these devices are employed in every song. However, Foster the People pleased the crowd on the strength of a collection of ridiculously catchy singles, enchanting visual cues and an earnest desire to put on a thrilling show. Ultimately, the diverse audience, standing contentedly under the overcast Berkeley sky, just wanted to dance and enjoy the night — a wish that the boys had no problem obliging.
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