Dave Tobias hit another great show last week in San Francisco and files this report.
Foxygen joined Unknown Mortal Orchestra for a sold out show at the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday night. There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the opener, Foxygen, as they’ve garnered some significantly positive press around their full-length debut on Jagjaguwar, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. While the name of both the band and the record could lead one to believe that they’re not taking things seriously, Foxygen’s live show proved they are anything but flippant.
Sure, there was the pretension of a young band playing on larger stages for the first time, particularly in their strikingly juvenile stage banter. But, what can you expect from a group in their early twenties? They probably have huge heads at this point. Their live show, however, showed that Foxygen’s ambitions are much greater than playing sold out club shows. For a young band, their musical command of the stage was impressive. They were entertaining, engaging with the audience, and downright fun. Their take on classic rock is a breath of fresh air in a musical landscape obsessed with “new sounds.” They have studied the hell out of their parents’ record collections and developed a sound that harkens back to times of traditional, inventive songwriting. Highlights were a rollicking version of the title track from their latest effort, and more amped up takes on “No Destruction” and “San Francisco”. Overall, it was a wonderful effort from a young band well worth checking out.
Whereas Foxygen exemplified youthful energy on stage, headliner Unknown Mortal Orchestra showed the precision of a well-oiled musical powerhouse. UMO has developed a bit of cult following on the West Coast, and they completely lived up to expectations on Wednesday night. Their unique blend of garage soul was a nice pairing to the retro efforts of their opener, and showed why they’ve been championed by artists as diverse as Questlove and Grizzly Bear. They appeared most at home in the realm of psychedelic grooves, as lead singer and guitarist Ruban Nielson owned the performance with his atmospherics. Their live show is heavy on the jam, but doesn’t noodle or drift the way so many in that genre can. The new material from their underrated sophomore release, II¸ shined most brilliantly on this evening.
Both bands deserve much larger stages and audiences, and will absolutely decimate the festival circuit this summer. On this night, however, they were content with making every listener leave fulfilled.