Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Foster the People concert review: Los Angeles

A version of my review originally appeared at:

The momentum continues to build for Foster the People. 

Each time the Los Angeles alt-dance band returns to play Southern California , the venues get progressively bigger and usually sell out. A couple months ago, it was two nights at the El Rey. Now they’ve just cleared a pair of Wiltern shows and one at the Fox Theatre in Pomona , the site of a fantastic gig on Sunday night. Next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the trio headline a few local amphitheatres. 

Thanks to omnipresent hit “Pumped Up Kicks” - still lodged at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 - Foster the People’s highly engaging debut album “Torches” has moved close to 350,000 copies. Nearly all its songs have been licensed for use in TV, film and videogames (something you don’t see too often).

“Kicks” also was the first tune in two years to top the alternative charts and cross over to the upper reaches of the mainstream pop tally. Singer/songwriter/keyboardist Mark Foster (pictured above, at a previous gig) handled everything on that thought-provoking earworm about teens with guns, heard in its demo form. 

Before the guys took the Fox stage, teenage female admirers could barely contain their excitement. Whenever someone from the touring crew materialized to adjust sound levels on an instrument, loud shrieking would ensue. You’d think it was a Jonas Brothers concert or something. The crowd definitely skewed young (though I did see one middle aged couple scouring regional theater and real estate listings during band changeovers and filming FTP songs on their iPad). 

With six keyboard-oriented instruments onstage, Foster the People – which also includes bassist Cubbie Fink, drummer Mark Pontius and tour members Sean Cimino and Isom Innis – created a more textured and percussive live sound. “Houdini,” one of two songs the group recently performed on “Saturday Night Live” (where Kenny G joined them), got the 55-minute set off to a vibrant start. 

The helium voiced front man has a performance style that’s fun to watch, especially when he decided to do quick slide step moves across the stage. Dark keyboard tones on “Miss You” were intense, while the stabbing, prog rock-styled synth intro to the ebullient “I Would Do Anything for You” was an intriguing addition. 

Mark Foster kept talking to a minimum, except to spread the word about the Do Good Bus (, an organization the band has partnered with on tour. Sunday, it worked with a regional chapter of Habitat for Humanity. All the songs were presented with plenty of enthusiasm and prodigious use of a couple large drums for heavier rhythm accents. “Waste” recalled the best of the late ‘80s U.K. dance scene. The full-on groove and gleaming sound of “Call It What You Want” seemingly spiraled into the atmosphere. 

Laughing hyena samples prefaced the more rocking “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls).” Here, Foster played electric guitar and displayed his admitted ‘90s BritPop influence – specifically Blur – with an eager delivery. “Helena Beat,” concerning fake people putting on a front, kept the energy level high.

For the encore, an extended take on “Pumped Up Kicks” briefly morphed into total electronica territory before circling back to the original arrangement. Never lagging, the whirlwind set was over in a flash. The band should really consider adding a few covers or rarities to fill out the set in the future. 

Cults, a male/female duo who met and lived in San Diego but are now based in New York City , share a record label – Columbia - with Foster the People. They also tend to wrap their candy-coated melodies with dark lyrics. 

The second of two openers in Pomona (the quirky Modest Mouse-meets-Vampire Weekend vibe of Athens , Ga. act Reptar was undermined by its singer’s annoying childlike enunciation), Cults specializes in reverb-soaked songs that often update the 1960s girl group sound. Both lead vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist/singer Brian Oblivion (nee Ryan Mattos) use their long hair to hide on the artwork of Cults’ self-titled debut. In concert, dim lighting added a similar sense of mystique. 

Old black and white movie clips (Robert Mitchum’s “Night of the Hunter,” among them) were projected on a screen and speech samples from actual cult leaders like Jim Jones were spliced into songs. The pair were augmented by a drummer, guitarist and bassist.

From what I could determine, one was Follin’s brother Richie of OC band The Willowz. Hand claps signaled the start of Cults’ solid 35-minute set with “Abducted.” The fluffy vocals and grand keyboards of “Never Heal Myself” were artfully mussed up with a guitar maelstrom and Madeline’s defiant “F You” at the end. 

She introduced “You Know What I Mean” as a slow jam, but belted out the vocals with abandon. Many times, her words on various songs were trailed by a glockenspiel (loved that). Highlights? Oblivion joining in on the giddy duet “Bumper,” the majestic “Rave On,” with a guitar freak out section and “Go Outside” were highlights. Cults only went over moderately well with Foster the People fans who gave them polite applause; some ignored the band altogether.

1 comment:

Jessi W. said...

Can't wait for their show here! They put on such a great concert. Glad you enjoyed it.

If anyone's looking for tickets, you gotta check here, great selection: