On the neighborhood streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, dead leaves crunched underfoot in the refreshing late-October air; buildings were adorned with Halloween decorations and bright lights. Inside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the atmosphere proved no different. The stage was lined with gravestones, and cobwebs weaved between cymbals and microphones. After a tumultuous year of touring and sudden success, Foxygen clearly wanted to let loose and have some fun, much to the crowd’s delight.
Foxygen Embrace the Most Important Part of Their Music—Fun
It’s been a surreal year for Foxygen. The band from L.A. has quickly risen through the jet stream of success, but it hasn’t been a journey without turbulence. Their soulful, retro sound made them an instant hit with internet music taste-makers, yet in the wake of their abrupt fame, those who once lauded the group became detractors.
That said, the buzz was palpable at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Tuesday. For whatever the venue lacks in width, it makes up for in height, as arching ceilings and balconies provide many interesting spots to view a show. The crowd gradually wandered in and provided a hum of chatter over drinks.
Foxygen chose two comical and oddly entertaining openers in Jungle Green and Ben Chatrer. The former looked as though it might be one of his first times on stage, rolling around on the floor in between sampled loops of doo-wop. Nevertheless, the crowd couldn’t help but watch. Chatrer looked a little more experienced, if only for his age, suit and tie, and distinguished demeanor. He told jokes in between ditties on the piano.
All of this played into Foxygen’s self-proclaimed “Halloween spectacular,” as they took the stage dressed in costumes at around 11:00pm. Jonathan Rado (dressed as a “mad scientist”) came out first and played eerie tones on a synthesizer, then the rest of the band slowly followed. France came out dressed as Beetlejuice, his face painted white with unkempt hair hanging in his face.
France’s stage presence can best be described as unhinged, and the fact that he had a broken leg (he hurt it performing earlier in the tour) didn’t help matters. He supported himself with a cane wrapped in Christmas lights, and jostled around stage in an unpredictable manner, often kneeling down and screaming into the mic when he wasn’t hitting himself in the face with it. It was hard to take your eyes off him, somewhat based on the fear of missing what he’d do next.
Foxygen dusted off some earlier material, but when they played tracks from their latest LP, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, they really shined. The album itself is truly one of the most original and brilliant homages to the 60s since, well, the 60s. France sounded (and danced) like a young Mick Jagger, yelping his way through anthems “No Destruction” and “Shuggie.”
Because of the fact that France and lifelong friend Jonathan Rado sound so convincing and effortless, you have to pinch yourself to remember they’re only 23 years old, and they are not the second coming of The Rolling Stones (nor do they want to be). It was abundantly clear that Foxygen just wanted to have a good time playing music; they didn’t ask for this blinding spotlight.
Again, the road hasn’t always been smooth-sailing. After what was described as a “meltdown” at South By Southwest (a showcase veiled as a music festival), critics quickly jumped ship, and claimed Foxygen couldn’t handle the spotlight. It was a curious and decidedly hasty reaction, but frontman Sam France’s unpredictable presence was cited as the main reason for the mutiny.
True, France has had a rough journey, however, music critics who gushed over him as if he were Jagger himself clearly acted unfairly. They built things up so quickly because, really, they wanted Foxygen to be something larger—the full representation of the legendary musicians they were inspired by. In reality, this band needs time to grow and flourish.
On Tuesday night, none of this mattered. Brooklyn provided a safe haven from all the noise, and the band repeatedly mentioned how much they loved playing in New York for the two-night stint. Fans ironically (and joyfully) sang the lyrics “there’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore,” clearly having a good time with it.
As Foxygen continued to play well after midnight, this idea rang true. Touring and criticism sucked away the most essential part of their music and what they need most to grow—fun. If only for a night, they found it again; it was hiding in Brooklyn all along.
Article by Nicolas White