Foxygen @ Skully’s Music Diner, Columbus, OH 4/6/15

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This past rainy April Monday night, I heard that a local band, Swarming Branch (fronted by the always lovely and multi-talented Andrew Graham), was opening for the “farewell” Foxygen/… And Star Power tour stop in Columbus. I had heard a few intriguing things about Foxygen in the past- namely their performance antics at a certain Texan music festival. I’d also heard of the performance capabilities of … And Star Power, a backing group of singers and musicians added to the usual  Foxygen duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France. So, I jumped at the chance to see what their live act was all about. In addition, sandwiched these acts, was listed an Australian performer, Alex Cameron, who I had never heard of, but turned up in a few odd places during my cursory Google search of his work before the show. So I left my house feeling excited, this show was certain, I thought, to contain something wholly unexpected.

Swarming Branch/ Andrew Graham, as I mentioned before, are a Columbus scene staple, boasting a sweet throwback/vintage 60’s sound with earnest lyrics paired comfortably to Graham’s intriguing “speaking cadence” style singing voice. Swarming Branch is also quite fluid when it comes to its members- this evening they consisted of bass, keys, and two percussionists. Their performance was resolute, yet easy going and very warm. Graham’s voice was especially enhanced by fellow Columbus artist, Counterfeit Madison’s vocal flexing over her keyboard. Their set included several pieces from their most recent recordings as well as some unreleased tracks. The sound was well-rehearsed and their performance was engaging without any heavy handed antics. They were absolutely charming, and to my surprise (because it was after all 8pm on a Monday night) as I asked around the audience, it seemed that most people had attended, not to see the main act, but rather to see this local opener. So I guess there is something to be said for their uncanny ability to cheer up a rainy day.

Following Swarming Branch, was the evening’s (for me at least) wildcard: Alex Cameron, I had caught sight of him before the show and my first impression was, “This guy… is gonna be weird”. I wasn’t wrong. Dressed in an oddly fitted, very 80’s looking grey suit with long slicked-back blonde hair and a formidable scowl, he marched onto stage accompanied only by a saxaphone player who was similarly garbed in absolute 80’s skeeze apparel. As I wondered what sort of gimmick they meant to pull off, Cameron switched on a heavy goth-pop track and began to sing. Or maybe “intone” is a better word. His lyrics were darkly hilarious, his vocal style was familiar to 80’s goth or post-punk, but not boringly so. His performance was something like a vampiric southern gospel preacher. Although not a huge fan of pre-recorded mixes, I loved it. I also dug the saxaphone player who played with a sort of sneering mastery that was total entertainment. The crowd was absolutely receptive, I suddenly began to have a distinct feeling that I too was quite receptive to Cameron’s bizarre charm, the fact that he did not have any other material to play (his most recent album,  Jumping the Shark, is his first) was probably my greatest disappointment that evening. His closing piece, “Take Care of Business”, I absolutely had to drunkenly download and listen to a few more times at home that night… Yeah, that guy was great, go listen to the whole album

The final act, Foxygen… And Star Power, was preceded by no small amount of audience anticipation, I was standing to the side of the stage as the security guard gravely informed the people next to me that we had to “move over because the performers had several off-stage costume changes”. I am a sucker for costume changes, my level of anticipation suddenly matched everyone around me. As I mentioned before, for this tour, and the promotion of Foxygen’s recent album release …And Star Power, the usual duo has expanded to a nine piece group to include three back-up dancers/singers. I am also a sucker for back-up dancers, my level of anticipation is very high. Lead singer, Sam France, has a certain performance notoriety which follows him closely. From the start he did not disappoint and immediately launched into a sort of “brat fabulosity” swagger with the late 60’s revival sound familiar to fans of groups such as the “Brian Jonestown Massacre”. A few songs in, France picked up a bottle of what looked like whiskey, chugged it, professed to be in A.A and then proceeded to declare the act an “old Hollywood trick”. This would prove to be a good metaphor for the entirety of the performance, I had trouble picking apart the music from the staging, it seemed that one could not exist without the other and I couldn’t tell if I actually liked any of the songs, but decided this did not really matter. It was fucking loud, and every few moments I caught someone’s good guitar work. And, I have to emphasize the performance aspect really was great, there was some sort of maybe staged, maybe real tension between two bass/guitar players which was worked out by a ridiculous on-stage mini glow sword battle. …And Starpower danced with “Rocky Horror-Esq” precision, it was fucking fun. People stood on things, and screamed, nobody stopped watching. Sometimes, however, it seemed that with all their backing power, the duo did not thoroughly utilize the onstage talent for more than just the act. For instance, the back-up singers were absolutely awesome, rhythm-tight  dancers and co-singers, but for some reason Rando/France did not choose to use their vocals in any sort of harmonizing capacity. Oh well, it was still fun to watch. Also, while they DID leave stage twice for what I assumed was supposed to be a costume switch, nobody looked any different, so I have to imagine they needed the breaks to maintain their, um, “stamina”…

Foxygen is a duo, currently touring with a nine piece group, from LA. There latest album, …And Starpower was released by Jagjaguwar Records October 2014.