Foxygen Blows the Roof Off Terminal West
Foxygen has certainly made a name for themselves over the last few years as one of the weirdest groups to break into the "indie mainstream." A good bit of their early years are chronicled in my review of their latest album Hang so I won't bore you with the details, but it's been quite interesting to watch the trajectory of their career. Reading into their previous live shows, it was hard to get excited about their set at Terminal West on Tuesday. There are plenty of reports online about how their performances are usually a mess, filled with tension, onstage injuries, bad mixing, and meltdowns from band members.
Something must have sparked for the band on this current tour then since, for the most part, it was 75 minutes of vintage and chaotic, yet controlled entertainment. With a nine-piece ensemble, including a three-piece horn section, frontman Sam France takes the stage sporting makeup, glitter, sunglasses, and a jacket that looked at least three sizes too small. It's an easy copout to say that he's simply channeling the sexual bravado of artists like Mick Jagger or David Bowie, but through the amalgamation of some of the biggest rockstars of the 70s and his own weirdo sensibilities, he manages to carve out an interesting onstage persona that is rarely seen in the days of lifeless indie frontmen.
After plowing through a string of songs from 2013's excellent We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, France brings mention to the well-behaved Atlanta crowd, before breaking into a front-to-back performance of 2017's Hang that begins with the funky and eccentric "Follow the Leader." Adorned in a white dress, backing vocalist Jackie Cullen provides quality harmonies to every song, juxtaposing Foxygen's raucous and youthful energy with a pleasant feminine touch.
Without the string section that was ever present on Hang, Foxygen still manages to bring the album to life on stage. Instrumental solos dominate the live act, with some awesome trombone fills bringing excitement around every corner of the music. I was too far from Jonathan Rado to tell what kind of keyboard he was playing, but I was floored by his ability to switch off between that and an electric guitar at the bat of an eye.
During the sweet full-band jam middle section of "America," France and Cullen rush backstage and come back dressed in classic formalwear, finishing off the final three songs of Hang with impressive swagger. The band goes all out during the finale of "Rise Up," turning the volume up to 11 as they leave the stage and comes back for an encore.
...And Star Power cut "How Can You Really" translates much better live than on record, with an impressive guitar solo from Rado to cap it off. Take the Kids Off Broadway favorite "Make It Known" is the next track, giving the feeling of The Kinks-meets-show tunes, with some more remarkable backing vocals from Cullen. "No Destruction" follows suit, with a kooky Americana saloon bar vibe giving way to France's bold and upbeat vocal delivery. Foxygen closes the show with 2013's "On Blue Mountain," finishing the song with a powerful and fiery jam of horns and guitar.
Any preconceived notions about Foxygen's ability to put on a great show were thrown out the window on Tuesday. Rado and France brought together a talented group of musicians for this tour, and everything culminated in a performance that left a strong impression on the Terminal West crowd. I'm excited to think about where they'll take their delightfully bizarre vision of the classic sounds of American music from here.
Photos by Sarah Htun for Bullet Music