Concert Review: Foxygen at Turner Hall (Milwaukee, WI)

Foxygen (Westlake Village, California)
July 28th, 2013
Turner Hall in Milwaukee, WI

If you only know Foxygen from their tantalizing pop single “San Francisco,” then you would likely be surprised by their live show, at least the one they put on in Milwaukee Sunday night. Not only was the likable track from their breakout 2013 album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, not played, the band’s setlist and stage presence sided more with psychedelic disarrangement rather than the enchanting ambiance of “San Francisco.” However, throughout the night it was apparent: fans seemed to enjoy every cent spent on the high-spirited $12 Turner Hall show.

Foxygen has had quite the year thus far in 2013.  January saw the release of their latest album to nearly universal critical acclaim. The band duo, comprising of Jonathan Rado and Sam France, were set to ride high on the blog buzz wave; yet, between canceled tour dates earlier this year and rumors of inner band turmoil, the rise to the top hasn’t been the most glamorous. Most recently, former touring member, Elizabeth Fey (whose tour absence may have to do with exclusion of “San Francisco” from Sunday’s set) wrote a personal blog post of further details surrounding a potential band rift this past week.

So with that recent news circling the air, what was Sunday’s live show like? Rado and France, along with their touring band members, came out on stage and opened the set with the sweltering Rolling Stones-channeling gem, “On Blue Mountain.” It was a fantastic, lively take of the 21st Century Ambassadors’ track. France rambunctiously led the way on the song; swaggering around stage, trying his take at channeling Mick Jagger, though not always nailing the gracefulness. Early on it was evident; France is a mess of a frontman.  He continuously stumbles around stage, drops his mic often, leave the stage mid-song, and will lay flat on the floor after a song is over, leaving everyone waiting for him to get up and continue on to the next song. He will ask the crowd seemingly pointless questions and then try his hardest to hear one, single answer from one person out of everyone yelling replies. I’ve seen before where the erratic frontman is brilliant, exciting and enrapturing to a live show, but I’ve also seen where it’s distracting, unappealing and disingenuous; there’s a thin line between being lost in the music, and just being lost. France was definitely tiptoeing that line Sunday night, that is, when he wasn’t busy enough trying to maintain his balance on stage.

Even if the show did get a little goofy (Disney movies and sing-alongs were a reoccurring banter theme), or even sloppy at times, Foxygen had a powerful redeemer on their side: the music. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a fantastic album full of fun and lively tunes, and their set  included solid renditions of the sound spanning “Shuggie” and refreshingly touching  “No Destruction.”  Near the close of the set, the live cut of “Oh No 2” was gorgeously on point and the crowd was visibly feeling its nostalgic vibe. New album highlight “Oh Yeah,” was surprisingly left out of the set, though it left room for the band to mix in some of their earlier, experimental material on stage.

Throughout the show, I tried to pick up on any possible animosity between Rado and France, or any of the other band members, but it was hard to tell. As I mentioned, France was all over the place during the performance and even left stage before the final encore song had finished, but I couldn’t tell if that was “business as usual” for Foxygen, as this was my first time seeing the band play a full set (I caught a few songs of their Pitchfork Music Festival performance a week prior). Rado was comparatively more composed than France during the set, but he never appeared overly bothered by his bandmate’s on-stage demeanor. I will say though, the two weren’t going out of their way to disprove the recent Elizabeth Fey remarks. It didn’t seem like a perfectly intact band on stage Sunday night, but then again, maybe that’s Foxygen for you— talented and captivating, impulsive and unhinged.

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