Foxygen does not travel lightly. Their band consisted of seven musicians in addition to the frontmen Rado and France. A tuba, trombone and trumpet accompany the typical instruments for an indie-rock band. Their music, particularly in live performance, gives more of a performance-art and avant-garde vibe than any one limited genre.
Foxygen emerged from behind a tiny curtained door to the left of the stage at The Independent on Friday, each member one-by-one meeting their array of keyboards, drums, guitars, trumpets, trombones and tubas that filled the stage before them.
Lead guitarist and keyboardist Jonathan Rado didn’t even wave before sitting down to jam to “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic,” in a more jazzy tune than usual. As waves of electricity and cheers filled the room, lead vocalist and the other half of the original band, Sam France, jumped onstage throwing peace signs while wearing sleek black pants and a long-sleeved white blouse tied just above his bellybutton — and, of course, pink-toned sunglasses that hid fuchsia eyeshadow. “Chill out,” he cooed to the cheering crowd, “We’ll get there, we’re just getting started.”
Foxygen’s performance was electric: France gives off an air of haphazard elegance and freedom, while Rado’s subdued presence was balanced with his breakneck fingering of the guitar and keyboard. Their musical energy filled the room so that nobody — not even the bartenders — was able to stand still. The pit was filled with loving flutters and lightly waving arms, rather than the usual thrashing and head-banding.
A performance of “San Francisco” was met with hugs in the audience, while France kissed the hands of fans in the front row. “Shuggie” followed with gorgeously full sound that soared, matched with hues of red and green lights that danced across the crowd. “Follow the Leader,” the first track off Foxygen’s latest album, Hang, was met with hops, skips and hurrahs. This song in particular, with lines such as “I know sometimes everyone wants to be someone else. … So follow the leader. … And the leader is you,” encapsulates the band’s desire to celebrate the beauty of fringe and unconventional identities.
Rado’s subtle presence onstage suddenly transformed from shy to bold, when he stood from his seat with guitar in hand and jumped up onto the keyboard during “Avalon.” A few songs later, during “America,” France fled the stage with vocalist Jackie Cohen while the band played on. The two returned dressed in black and continued their synchronized dances. “This is Jonathan Rado,” said France, “He’s my partner and he’s the best.” He introduced their fellow musicians before gushing, “They all dwarf me.”
But France’s voice couldn’t be dwarfed. As a testament to the extreme depth and range of his vocal chords, he goes from low bellows and screams to high vibrattos. He happily danced with the microphone stand, kicking it around like a broadway cane. During “Trauma,” he sang with uninhibited strength and pain, reaching for his own throat before collapsing to the floor and doing a backwards somersault. With each song, his effervescence sent shockwaves through the crowd.
From “Blue Mountain” to “Follow the Leader” and “Rise Up,” so many of Foxygen’s songs praise unabashed self-expression, reflected in the way France throws himself across the stage. After “Rise Up,” the band left the stage, bass still buzzing and keyboards sit alight. They returned to play “Blue Mountain” — during which France grabbed a free trumpet and played it messily into the microphone — as well as “No Destruction” and “Make It Known.”
“This isn’t a rock show,” said France to the crowd, “I mean, it is a rock show, but it’s also a theatre show.” This speaks not only to his very active and groovy performance, but also the narrative vein of their music. Foxygen’s music is always poetic and sonically rich, but live, each song transforms into a soliloquy: a performance art piece that is equal parts visual and musical.
Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].