When Foxygen started to gain acclaim last year with their album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, they were just a bunch of young hipster kids with a retro ‘60s vibe. On April 17 at The Chapel in San Francisco, singer Sam France ignored the fur coats and chill vibes and pranced onto the stage with black lipstick, eyeliner, dyed scraggly hair and a skintight shirt that looked fit for a tween girl. And, just like that, Foxygen’s identity morphed into uncertainty and France became the riveting spotlight of the whole performance.
To sum up the band’s performance in one word, it would be “unexpected.” Some of their catchy, indie hits from 21st Century Ambassadors, such as “No Destruction” and “San Francisco,” took on a punk aura. Three background singers, two guitarists and a drummer joined the core members, France and Jonathan Rado, causing the songs to become more chaotic and fast-paced. The rest of the members onstage maintained their original laid-back look and presence, making France’s intense appearance, spastic gesticulations and seemingly possessed stares into the crowd that much more confusing. The sweet melodies in their songs were sometimes hard to discern, for France’s voice got lost in all that was going on.
However, the shock of the punk France dissipated quickly, and it left an energetically captivating performance in its wake. The infectious track “On Blue Mountain” was particularly electric with the additional adrenaline kick, causing the crowd to jump up and down along with the background singers’ synchronized moves. Also, the encore, featuring “Make It Known” and “Teenage Alien Blues” from their first album, Take The Kids Off Broadway, saw the group get back to their roots and was a highlight of the show. France’s never-ending antics were certainly engrossing, while his and Rado’s between-song banter was delightfully ridiculous (such as France going on a tangent about how we, the crowd, were Led Zeppelin, and Rado interrupting sporadically by honking a bike horn).
The band played a few new songs from their upcoming album that is planned to come out sometime in the fall. Some were slow ballads that you sway along to while others were guitar-shredding and aggressive. This dichotomy epitomized the performance and the place that Foxygen has found itself. It appeared that their identity is vague and unsure. They could continue to produce the dreamy tunes that propelled them to popularity, or they could go in a rougher, more intense direction as displayed at The Chapel.