Young Flowers in Riot: Foxygen, Live at Pianos
Though the shocks of uncut hair, ripped clothing, and free love have long subsided like so many smoky clouds of questionable origin, there is still a surprising power to the 60s sound, an at times reckless, other times pastoral approach to rock music that apparently will not die. The latest bearer of the eternal flame of Dionysus is Foxygen, a two piece band from Los Angeles County who take the woodwind whimsy of the Kinks, the screaming psychedelic organ of the Doors, and interestingly, wonderfully, the funk of Sly and the Family Stone, and create something totally new from those old sounds. That their latest album is entitled “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” seems to underpin this dragging of Summer of Love sounds into our new century.
Thankfully, Foxygen carries over that other linchpin of the 60s sound, the live show as site of ritual and aural excess, prayer rendered as amplifier worship. The band played a late show Thursday night at Pianos, the 1AM start time perhaps serving as a reminder as to the best time for such music to be enjoyed. They opened with the title track “21st Century Ambassadors…”, all organ howling, vein popping madness, but soon settled into a comfortable groove, the drums and bass providing a steady backbeat to lead singer Sam France’s vocal freakouts.
The frenetic tempo did not last long, as after a few more psych-rock bangers the band quickly slid into its quieter, more melodic, and thoroughly stranger folk-pop side, with the majestic single “San Francisco,” three minutes and forty seven seconds of musical bliss. Carrying on his robotic movement and deceptively laid back intonation from the music video, France beautifully teased out the quiet sadness underpinning “San Francisco”’s themes of loss, love, and hoped-for-transcendence. When he sings “I left my heart in San Francisco” and the backing band coos back softly “that’s ok, I was bored anyway,” the crowd almost audibly hushed, the sound of all of us being taken somewhere deep and personal at once, together, almost too much to bear on a random Thursday night.
The middle ground between Foxygen’s heart-tugging and head crushing would be the first single “Shuggie,” and as played live it retains all of its gradual funkiness and lyrical salvation, as the whole band grandiosely singing in their best Showtime at the Apollo voices “Oh if you believe in yourself, you can free your soul,” before fading back into a quiet bridge, only drums pattering, and a flute leading the way for strings. Before long though, we’re back in the louder swing of things, as the song ends with a pure hip hop groove fading into a Dance to the Music style sing along, complete with handclaps.
Hearing all these disparate sounds coming from one band in one room began to feel like seeing someone go through their whole record collection at once and instantly turn all disparate genres into one sound right then and there. Another shock of Foxygen’s, beyond their ability to bridge the musical genres, is that the result of this disparate musical collection is very much not a mess, but simply another group of young directionless men bringing it all home.