Foxygen The Observatory 8/15/14 "When I say Rado, you say drank," Jonathan Rado calls out from behind a stack of keyboards. Rado. Drank. Rado. Drank. He hits a button -- the beat kicks in at 74 BPM. It's the same tempo as Kendrick Lamar's Swimming Pools. Roll up. Drank. "Give me your pants," someone shouts. "I can't," Rado responds -- calm, removed, Keith Richards cool. He plays with a cigarette in his mouth, wet between sips off a big bottle of Jack.
"These are my bar mitzvah pants."
Things got freaky Friday night at the Observatory. Opening act (and Locals Only faves) Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel ushered in a wave of chunky psychedelia -- persistent bass grooves dressed up in Davy Jones harmonies, in sinister Sunday morning organ riffs. Frontman Tomas Dolas convulsed at the keys, howling, thrashing, setting off "Nico" -- a perfect closer, a song for the pit.
Mr. Elevator left the stage, replaced with halved mannequins. Names were scrawled across their chests -- Linda, Cindy, Cheryl. Gary Wilson was up next. He took the stage in typical Gary fashion, dressed somewhere between Italian grandmother and mad scientist. His strut was manic, theatrical, drawing the crowd into songs about Friday nights and blind dates, a heartbreaker named Cindy and school dances. It's a potent mix -- massive, operatic performances and roller disco make out pop.
Foxygen came on around 11 p.m. Rado was the first one out, sound checking each of his four keyboards. In a few minutes the stage was full -- three choir girls, a turtlenecked bass/guitar duo, drummer, and the yin yang, Keith and Mick core that is Sam France and Rado. The Stones connection is instantly apparent between France's strut and Rado's simmer, a fresh manifestation of that classic energy with a whole new creativity and a whole new edge.
There was a thick sense in the crowd, a groupthink intuition -- you could feel the opening keys of "How Can You Really" before Rado hit them. It's three minutes of perfect pop, a killer hook that plants France firmly in his upper register. He walked the lip of the stage like a catwalk, mugged for cameras, karate kicked and let his pants fall halfway down his ass.
The lights went hard blue on the last beat, setting the scene for the trudging one two's of "On Blue Mountain." "I was looking through the Bible," France howled, the crowd tensing, anticipating that space-headed buildup when the song breaks from manic prayer to manic pop tune. And then it all descends into unhinged noise, France on his knees, hands clasped, pleading, Rado hammering on the keys, wet cigarette in his mouth. The choir girls went feral, shimmying, clawing, and the kids gave it all back, breaking into a classic Orange County circle pit.
It was impressive to see the crowd keep up with Foxygen's whiplash tempo changes -- grooves emerging from the thrash and noise, no warning. Last year's single "Shuggie" shook up the floor several times, starting slow, melancholy, hitting a steady build up, big chorus, popping into a funked out bass groove, and closing on a massive, singalong outro. The kids were there every step of way -- swaying, jumping, getting down, switching it up on a dime.
After a few new songs, the band hit the loungey opening of "No Destruction." France stumbled around the stage, mumbling about smoking pot on the subway, about San Francisco and consciousness. The entire crowd shouted along with the second verse, confirming what might be Foxygen's best lyric -- "there's no need to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore."
If the new songs "Brooklyn Police Station" and "Cannibal Holocaust" are anything to go by, we're in for one deranged, unhinged, head-splitter of an album. Foxygen's second LP ...And Star Power comes out October 14th.
The Crowd: Predictably hip. Were the bouncers giving PBRs and undercuts instead of X's? Everyone here could be Fred Armisen in character.
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Random Notebook Dump: Wait, is that Kate from Vivian Girls?
Overheard in the Crowd: "Hey, don't get worked up about it. Some people are going to talk shit and some people are going to shit shit."