Sam France and Jonathon Rando of Foxygen have been making music together since they met in high school around 2005, honing over the years their psychedelic, avant garde sound while staying very aware the Stones' and the Velvet's catalogue. The band's excellent breakthrough We Are The 21st Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic, saw them skyrocket to international levels of fame almost instantaneously, and the drain of traveling the world performing the in the wild, heart-on-your-sleeve manner the group does seem to have begun to take it's toll on the band.
in which an exhausted France berated the audience at the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase (he also quickly returned to the stage and apologized), and then there was the cancellation of Foxygen's summer tour in Europe for the band's "creative health". Both of these incidents were firmly in the minds of everyone in The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last night during Foxygen's wild and fantastic performance that featured a seemingly nearly unhinged Sam France climbing the rafters, arguing with the audience, mumbling incoherently between songs and disappearing off stage inexplicably. France was clearly lost in the music at times and gave an amazing performance... when he wasn't lost in something else entirely.
Opening band Crumbs' rhythm guitar player, bassist and drummer also play in Foxygen's current touring band (those three are joined by a keyboardist in Crumbs) and they were very impressive. I hadn't heard much of Crumbs before, having only listened to them in the days leading up to the show, but the set was very interesting and the group's weirded out brand of heaviness definitely won the audience over. People who seemed shocked and were almost laughing at first were soon bobbing and weaving to the heavy, Primus-influenced, almost-funk the band employed all set. Crumbs' set was tight and the band seemed to be having a great time... pretty much the antithesis of Foxygen's tumultuous, jaw-dropping set that was to follow.
Foxygen's wild and unpredictable show featured France effortlessly moving from screaming at the top of his lungs and flailing on the ground, to then singing beautifully and clearly, to then channeling his inner Jim Morrison and Nick Cave, using a brooding and foreboding baritone (and resuming the ground flailing) and all the while playing the roll of volatile rock n' roll frontman to a T. When France was actually engaged and performing, it was transfixing, the band around him playing with their intense faces in pinched frowns of concentration, and Rando's sharp and exciting playing leading them through the raucous set. The group wasted no time setting the mood, opening with a wall of screeching noise and France's screaming that bleed terrifically into "On Blue Mountain". The opening was impressive, but more than that it was a jarring beginning that set the dark, nervous tone of the show immediately. Foxygen was not here to fuck around.
France then seemed to be genuinely upset when some asshole inevitably yelled out obnoxiously loud for "No Destruction" and to "play the hits" (yes, we all know the line "There's no need to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore" is coming guy, please do shut up), as he started mumbling incoherently into the mic. When said Brooklyn Asshole then shouted at France to "just play" France's glance shot up directly and he hissed that he "controlled the emotions in the room" and "had the power". There were then shouts to the effect of "What is this, a Brian Jonestown Massacre show?!?" (another baiting, idiotic taunt) which fortunately France didn't respond directly to.
After "No Destruction", France shot up from his keyboard and then made a beeline off stage, with the audience and band watching him disappear. The rhythm guitarist then followed him backstage, and wouldn't reappear until the last song of the encore (his failure to reemerge only added to the general feeling of unrest). After a bit of uneasy silence and laughter, Rando eventually said that he didn't know where Sam had gone and proceeded to play some random organ lines while relating a tour story at the audience's request. After a minute or two the band's bassist also went backstage and then reemerged a short time later with France, who explained that he had "had to pee". This excuse was immediately met with a chorus of chuckles, "yeah rights" and inquiries as to where the rhythm guitarist had gone.
When the band finally got going again, they sounded great and all of France's antics only added to volatile, psychedelic songs like "Teenage Alien Blues", which to those not familiar is a strange, otherworldy ten minute song that features lines about having a "headful of acid". France soon seemed to get swept up in the moment again, as he again began screaming his lyrics and whirling around with such reckless abandon that his microphone came unplugged twice (which seemingly confused him) and he nearly knocked over several instruments. At perhaps the show's wildest moment, France hung from the rafters at the front of the stage while "playing" (kicking) his keyboard with his feet and screaming like a madman, before dropping and sprawling out on the stage's floor.
As unhinged and seemingly upset as France seemed, Rando exuded a calm warmth from the stage and seemed as befuddled as the rest of us as to what exactly was happening with his friend and bandmate. Earlier in the show Rando mentioned that relationships with both "your friends and bandmates" had their "ups and downs" but that you had to "stick with people" which seemed sort of an odd thing to say onstage considering what's been going on with the band as of late. Rando also told France directly more than once that he was really digging and enjoying the show and thought it sounded good. It was hard to tell whether he was genuinely expressing his enjoyment to encourage his friend (does France really need encouragement?) or he was being sarcastic, but Rando played good cop and genuine nice guy all night, so one would think he was sincere. Another odd moment that only re-enforced the general uneasy feeling that pervaded the entire evening.
If this was a put-on or an act, Rando and the others in the band should get back into film-making and become actors, because they seemed genuinely shocked and in awe of what was going on. Whether it is or isn't is immaterial in the end, because Foxygen put on a fantastic rock n' roll show where the feeling that anything could happen electrified the entire evening. The performance harkened back to a time when rock music was the dangerous music of the day, when honkey parents across the country feared that black folks' devil music was going to ruin little Susie's purity. Last night stands as one of my most memorable shows I've seen, and considering the absurd amount of live music I've seen in the last 13 years or so, that's saying something, I just hope it's coming at the expense of Foxygen and/or France's well being.
France's attitude seemed to scream "Are you not entertained?!?!" as though he was aware he was on the brink and that people were eager for him to breakdown, but that he didn't care. It was all very Connie Lungpin of him and effective, but also made me worried for what the future holds for Foxygen, as France seems to be wearing himself incredibly thin. But with the California duo being such a dedicated and creative twosome, hopefully France awoke this morning and was fine, as there's really no need to for him to be such an asshole, they're not in Brooklyn anymore.