You have to love a band who announce the upcoming leg of their tour with the words “This week’s victims…” But man, Foxygen can be frustrating. Their last LP (2013’s We Are the Ambassadors of Peace and Magic) was a significant step forward from 2012’s Take the Kids off Broadway, which was promising but messy, fragmented and derivative. I know, I know, self-consciously, “post-modernly” derivative, but still…
By comparison, Ambassadors of Peace and Magic was a triumph of coherence, leading to speculation that the 24-track …And Star Power, might be their coming-of-age record.
Well, while …And Star Power has a lot going for it, unfortunately you can still play sing-a-long-a-bingo with the thing: there’s the Dylan one, this is the Stones one, ooh here comes Todd Rundgren. By the time you get to the Suicide one, it’s all become a bit Stars in Their Eyes.
Nuggets of brilliance do sometimes emerge from the soup, but they kind of make you wonder what could have been if they’d ditched the cabaret and forged their own path. You & I, for example, is two minutes of perfection. When those Big Star harmonies kick in (yes, it’s the Big Star one, garnished with early-Radiohead sprinkles), you just want to melt into a pool of your own vomit (in a good way). Mattress Warehouse is another one; a hypnotic, low-key motorik jam soaked in underdog charm that weirdly doesn’t remind me of anyone in particular.
Still wrestling with my ambivalence about the album, I wasn’t sure what to expect from their gig at Brighton’s Komedia on Wed 29 October. Surely it could go either way.
As soon as singer Sam France invaded the stage looking like an amphetamine-charged hybrid of Iggy Pop, Animal from the Muppets and Marilyn (you know, that pretty bloke from the 80s), it was obvious what sort of night we were in for. Every sinew in his scrawny torso was stretching itself to the limits of elasticity in pursuit of the purist essence of rock ‘n’ roll, as he preened around tearing off layers of vintage clothing, looking for stuff to climb onto. He didn’t find anything. Possibly the Komedia staff had removed all potentially hazardous objects from the premises.
And you can see why they chose to play at Komedia; they needed the width. I counted nine of them up there, unless there were a couple of really short ones I missed. They included three backing singers, who looked fantastic, although I don’t have much idea what they sounded like because their vocals weren’t high enough in the mix. Why do these places employ sound guys who can’t hear?
A few tracks in, the dodgy sound became less of an issue as the musical montage was submerged by a combination of sheer physical spectacle and an indefatigable will to thrill. The supernova blasting from the stage was devoured and regurgitated by a crowd that favoured quality over quantity (surprisingly, it wasn’t sold out). They bobbed and surfed like the apocalypse was imminent. There was even a bit of girly screaming, as the band careered through a set comprised largely of tracks from the new LP (although no San Francisco, You and I or Mattress Warehouse – boo).
Hendrix, The Stooges, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, they were possessed by all of them in turn. Now I understand. Now I can see why they called it …And Star Power.