An Evening with Foxygen

Above: Impatiently waiting for the doors to open.
The feeling when a band completely shocks you and shatters your expectations of their live shows is a rare and glorious thing. And last night Foxygen did just that for me at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus.

I’ve always been a fan of Foxygen’s mesh of 60’s and 70’s-influenced rock songs that change tempo mid-tune, experiment with rhythms and brass/horns, craft erratic lyrical and vocal stylings, use sound effects, and fuse piano and keyboards into a jam. I went into the show expecting a laid back, peaceful session that wouldn’t be out of place at a small(er) city coffee shop, or a used book store.

Instead what I got was a full-fledged performance by Sam France dressed as a cross between Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, some Broadway-style dance sequences with backing singer Jackie, a nearly 7-minute guitar solo from Johnathan Rado and even a costume change halfway through the show. Above: Foxygen first takes the stage.

The show started with an excellent opener of about 6 songs from songwriter Gabriella Cohen and her backing band, who I’d never listened to previously. They were from an eclectic combination of Romania and Australia and crafted a show of charming banter with the audience and extensive jams on both electric and bass guitar. I also loved seeing two women fronting the show-and their vocal harmonies were fantastic. 

Above: Gabriella Cohen and her merry band.
Foxygen took the stage around 9 and instantly ripped into “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,” complete with a brass arrangement and a fantastic contrast of France’s wild and dramatic stage presence and Rado’s collected and calm keyboard playing. But just because Rado was relaxed and quiet in his demeanor doesn’t mean he still didn’t have his time to shine, like in his aforementioned solo before the encore, and some additional solos on both guitar and keyboard.Above: Rado is a man of few words, but plenty righteous riffs.

After that, their lovely singer Jackie (who the crowd gleefully yelled to) joined the band on stage to provide some delightful backing vocals for “San Francisco” and “Shuggie,” and stayed on stage the rest of the show to provide a dance partner for France, tambourine playing, and assorted harmonies.Above: Jackie prancing around her microphone stand before being joined by Rado to provide vocals for “On Lankershim.”

The band played the entire “Hang” album, as well as their hits from “We Are the 21st Century…” They even pulled a few from “…And Star Power,” using “How Can You Really” as the closing encore track.

Above: A casual trumpet jam session from France.

What really thrilled me about the show was the sheer energy level that France provided and the amazing quality of musicianship. Everyone on stage flowed perfectly wth each other, even when just jamming out during a transition. France performed each song like he was the starring role in an old Broadway show, falling to his knees and nearing tears for “Trama” or doing a perfectly timed jazz hand and kickline dance for “Avalon” (one of my personal favourites).

Above: France sings to his adoring fans after serenading Rado.
The audience interaction was also great. France offered the perfect amount of sarcasm and self-confidence, but seemed genuine as could be in all the kisses he blew to the crowd. He even answered fans screaming to him on the stage, and invited people to sing along and correct the words he’d gotten wrong in the lyrics.

All in all, I’m blessed I got to start my weekend watching such a performative and talented group that completely blew me away (and writes music that reminds me of my musical theatre days). I can’t wait to see Foxygen again soon and see the direction they take this performative and theatrical style in.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.

-A.L.D.

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