For the encore of Foster the People’s brief secret show at Los Angeles’ Troubadour last night (June 2), frontman Mark Foster hesitantly took a seat behind a keyboard and settled into a gorgeous, self-conscious new tune called “Fire Escape.”
“Los Angeles, I’ve waited for you to pick yourself up and change,” Foster sang dreamily, the tension in his body melting away as he dug into the ode to his hometown. It’s the place he “cut his teeth at places like Molly Malone’s,” dreaming that one day he’d get to take the coveted Troubadour stage.
Six keyboards, a number of drums and a whole slew of other instruments were sprawled across the large stage, but the sold-out show itself felt small. Bodies clustered together intimately and when the band played songs like “Helena Beat,” “Life on the Nickel” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls),” dance parties ensued, amazingly free of recording devices or iPhones. While walking into the venue, the audience was strictly encouraged not to take pictures. Lalo Medina, known to many as Jack White’s right-hand man, came onstage right before Foster the People went on to ask people if anyone had ever seen a YouTube video online taken at a show as good as the show itself. No one responded and the audience was pretty good at keeping their phones down, especially with security guards flashing lights into people’s eyes when they even so much as took their phone out of their pockets.
But the vibe wasn’t ruined by the phone policing, and Foster the People were effectively able to bring their energy “back to the grass floor,” as Foster said — back to the days before distractions during shows, when fans could only focus on anything but scouring Twitter to see who else was hiding in the crowd. It also seemed a comforting reminder to Foster, who brought a rare, refreshing vulnerability to his performance. He told the audience that Foster the People’s forthcoming sophomore album, set for release later this year, felt like a “new birth” and a “new beginning” for the band, a group of young locals who blew up overnight and barely had time to breathe in 2012.
A sense of philosophical isolation and introspection resonated in the lyrics of the new Foster the People songs. Foster played “Nevermind” acoustically, much like “Fire Escape,” announcing that the song wasn’t “chill” on the new record but that after playing it the night before on just his guitar, he decided it sounded a bit like a lullaby. After admitting to not knowing how to “play and sing” the song very well and that he might not know all the lyrics, Foster set himself up for failure but ended up presenting a fragile torch song, complete with jazzy vocal inflections and lyrics that question the truth in the “post-modernist view.”
The polished performance of another new song, called “Level Up” (or so said their printed setlist), suggested that it could quite possibly be the new album’s lead single. It’s a moody, reverbed-out shoegaze affair, a song with melodic nods to lush Britpop tunes and crunchy ‘90s angst with an electronic backdrop. Foster sang about “standing in the corner, wondering when the bottom fell out” and “losing control,” all the while spazzing out dramatically behind the keyboard. Again, this song had an edgy philosophical framework and showed a daring dark side to a band most commonly thought of as lighthearted electro-pop.
Just because one can dance to it doesn’t mean the dance floor isn’t covered in shards of sonic glass, as evidenced by the macabre lyrics in their hit song “Pumped Up Kicks,” during which Mark Foster channeled Coldplay last night with his staggering keyboard solos. The band also played “Houdini,” a dance tune with teeth from their first album, during which Capital Cities‘ trumpet player Spencer Ludwig joined FTP. Foster said that he asked the lively young trumpet player to play with the band last minute, after Capital Cities had been on tour for two months, and Ludwig didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The only person missing from the Los Angeles-centric lovefest? FTP drummer Mark Pontius, who was watching the show from Florida via a laptop perched on the soundboard. The drummer, whom Foster called a “man’s man,” had almost had his finger bitten off accidentally by his dog when trying to “break up a fight between four pit bulls.” Foster asked the audience to wave to him, probably the only person who would get to watch the show with the aide of technology.
Foster the People Setlist – The Troubadour – 6/2/2013
“Life on the Nickel”
“Call It What You Want”
“Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)”
“Houdini” (Spencer Ludwig from Capital Cities on trumpet)
“Fire Escape”* (Encore)
Foster the People’s sophomore album will be released sometime in 2013. The band are playing another intimate show tonight at the Echoplex.
– Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles