Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Leader is You

Of course it was the familiar faces, too, but you can't overlook how much I enjoy theatrical types.

As I discussed with three different friends at the National, tonight's Foxygen show was a no-brainer for multiple reasons besides it was a beautiful night to be out.

Let's see, to start with, the trio was being backed up by members of the Spacebomb Records house band aka some of the best jazz cats (don't look at me, that's what they call each other) in Richmond, from the 5-piece horn section to the well-known rhythm section of Pinson and Cameron to the incomparable Trey Pollard on guitar, the very same who'd done the arrangements for the new Foxygen record.

That alone would have gotten me there, but I'd also heard singer Sam refer to the duo as "just theater kids," and history shows I'm a  fan of onstage over-wrought millennial stage drama tunes (hello, how many times did I attend the Ghost Light afterparty just to hear such people belt out show tunes?).

A third reason that several of us also acknowledged was that it was only a $15 ticket and happening a Tuesday night where it was easily the most interesting thing going on in town tonight.

My favorite reason came from a fellow Yo La Tengo fan who said simply, "I love to dance." Enough said.

In any case, ding, ding, ding. We have a winner, folks.

The opener was Aussie Gabriella Cohen who came out alone, admitting she'd been worried she'd be late because she was still changing her blouse. She's apparently wearing a lot of blouses on this tour and tonight's was a stand-up collar, puffy-sleeved, cream colored one with lace trim, very Victorian and/or '70s, depending on your point of reference.

She tried to tell us she  just wanted to come along as Foxygen's roadie, but they insisted she get onstage. Since she used to be the singer for the Furrs, she's obviously got some experience, although one friend thought she came across as not quite ready for prime time.

This was an interesting comparison since just before the show, I'd heard a snippet from a 1994 interview with the Dave Matthews Band, not long after they'd gotten their first record deal. Besides sounding incredibly young and excited (and not ready for prime time, either), they'd played "Ants Marching" right there in the studio and the passion and freshness of it was evident compared to how it undoubtedly sounds live now.

Sometimes, not quite ready for the big league is exactly when you most enjoy a band.

After the first song solo and an acknowledgement she worshipped Johnny Cash, Gabriella was joined by her band whom she immediately introduced, a nice touch, I thought. The quartet's songs were a combination of neo-country/western and girl group with lots of effects on the voice  and guitars and a bit of underlying garage.

"Do you all live here?" she asked of the enthusiastic crowd. "Have you been to Australia? Do you want to?" When the crowd cheered, she laughed. "Do you think we all surf?" She rolls her eyes. "Not much."

Banter was minimal - "This is another song" and "Thank you" - and the other guitarist added her lovely vocals to Gabriella's, as did the bassist on occasion. "This is our last song which is a good thing because then you can hear Foxygen!" Maybe, but in the meantime, I was totally digging the screaming post-punk guitar behind lyrics like, "Why don't we get together?"

During the break, I heard from my musician friend about the satisfactions of teaching guitar (students noodling between lessons) and from a photographer friend about being smitten by someone who'd last significant other was an illustrator for the "New Yorker." Tough act to follow, man.

When he bemoaned the difficulties of a long distance relationship like the one on which he was embarking, I reminded him that if a long-distance one is better than none at all, he might want to keep his bellyaching to himself.

Then the lights went down and I lost my friend to the front rows so he could dance with the mob while I stayed directly in front of the sound board, shielded from behind and with a good view. Also, plenty of room to dance.

Foxygen came out, which meant three faces I didn't know and eight I did. When I think back to that first time I ever saw Trey Pollard at a Listening Room in 2010, I couldn't help but think how cool it was to see him as part of this.

Singer Sam, a theater kid if ever there was one, came out in a skinny white t-shirt and jeans with Todd Rundgren-like hair (short bangs, long hair), round sunglasses and all the moves. There was posturing, there was drama, there was showing off with kicks, mic stand manipulations and fists in the air.

And that was just in the first song.

He introduced the girl singer as Julie and her job, it appeared, was to flip her hair, dance in syncopation with Sam and sing back-up or harmonize while looking cute. She nailed it. On the second song, he sang, "I left my heart in San Francisco" and she sang back, "That's okay, I live in L.A."

Three songs in and the band's influences were clear: Bowie, Queen and a lot of Mick Jagger's dance moves. A friend heard prog rock influences while I heard psychedelic.

Potatoes, potahtoes.

"A lot of local boys on stage tonight," Sam shouted enthusiastically, referring to a group of musicians mostly older than himself. Too funny. "Give it up for the Spacebomb crew!" he directed and the crowd did.

With each song, we got another massive dose of theater kid drama, whether guitarist/keyboard player Jonathan's screaming guitar solo, one foot on his bench, the other on top of the piano, or singer Sam acting as much as singing, helicoptering his arms and dropping and catching the mic.

We heard songs that were Queen-esque and others that invoked ABBA big time while the bubbly crowd bopped four colorful balloons (no doubt supplied by the band) into the air. There were costume changes, during which the band competed: Jonathan's exuberant piano playing versus a percussive onslaught in return.

Then we also had a song called "Where the Red Fern Grows," which I'm quite sure refers to an old children's book title, and wildly theatrical-sounding songs with multiple-part arrangements that allowed Sam to pull out his best deep voice for emphasis.

So. Much. Drama. It was fully fabulous.

My musician friend concluded at the end that he'd liked about 65% of the songs we'd heard. Personally, I'd liked 100% of the overwrought songs that winked at themselves and and reached for grandiosity while eight of the most talented musicians I know backed them up.

Not only did I want to give it up for the Spacebomb crew, but we Yo La Tengo fans love to dance.

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