Toronto’s Wrong Bar was thrumming with hipsters by the time we arrived. Sadly missing first-band-on-the-bill Wampire, we fought through the beards, thick-framed glasses and girls who were born in 1993 to the sidestage, for what they call a “buzzband”.
Enter Brooklyn’s Foxygen, channeling swagger and psychedelia, and aping Rolling Stones circa ‘71. I like Foxygen’s classic rock enough, in the way I also really dig my folks’ record collection. It’s comforting, and live, the kids – Foxygen are a duo with three others for the tour – are alright.
Between all the ace Sticky Fingering, flame-haired keyboardist/singer Jaclyn Cohen shoots looks of death at singer Sam France who’s swanning about in a trenchcape, drummer Shaun (who, incidentally, has a Kickstarter up for his own joint) is all exaggerated moves and open mouth and fun to scope, and co-founder Jonathan Rado ably keeps the bass. For a group of early twentysomethings, Foxygen are good times, and the set’s a mix of mid-tempo and rawk from both albums, including the newb We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (which tells you all need to know, really.)
But back to Sam France. I’ve had two friends now, at two different shows, harp on his posturing, and perceived arrogance. But I see something different: I see a kid who’s not yet figured out his own thing, and is leafing through a playbook. He’s reaching for the sky, hopping into the audience, making banal banter, acting like a bit like a cock. It’s showmanship like he thinks it should be. And, yunno, all hail the return of the showman. But he’s got deer-caught-in-the-headlights eyes. He’s doing Mick meets Pete Doherty but it’s not yet natural. It’d be nice to see Sam France be Sam France sometime. In the meantime, it’s cool to see Foxygen now, so I can compare notes on ‘em later.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, on the other hand, don’t need to bother with swanning about. One goes to a show to hear their woozy psych-rock brought more intensely to life, live. Not to harsh on the stuff on record, mind you – new album “II“ is finely honed layers of the past, reconstructed to sound somehow, blissfully, actually fresh. You can fish for ’60s refs, and you’ll find them, but unlike Foxygen, UMO doesn’t feel retro.
Tonight bassist Jacob Portrait – spreading his lurgy around by accepting a joint from a head-banging hippy kid and passing it back – and new drummer Riley Geare man the backbone, with a kind of awesome precision. But it’s guitarist/singer Ruban Nielson that you really wanna watch. When the ex-Mint Chicks man disappears off into a solo or extended noodle, it’s a pleasure to see the fingers fly. The millefeuille of the albums feel fuller and electrify.
“No Need for a Leader” (fave track from II) kicks off the set. “Something wicked this way comes” Ruban growls and man, I love this song. Big and thick and kinda dirty. “Faded in the Morning” also sounds expansive for the long, rammed-full room. There’s no swagger, just a few check-ins with the audience to make sure everyone’s alright, and yet still UMO are doing infinitely sexy music.
“Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” (watch their new NSFW video for it here) slows things, as does “Bicycle” “So Good at Being In Trouble” and “Thought Ballune”. “Monki” and “Boy Witch” trip us all out. But it’s the cover of Jay Reatard’s “My Shadow” in the encore that blows things. Like, literally. The band has to restart after tripping a metaphorical wire, but their version’s as manic and incendiary as the original. The walls shake.
And that my friends, is all a band needs. Less swagger, more shake. \m/
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