Monday, July 02, 2012

Foster the People deliver sonic goods at homecoming show

My review of Foster the People originally ran on the Soundcheck blog of The Orange County Register site on Sunday, July 1, 2012. A special "thank you" to Kelly A. Swift for the use of her photograph of Mark Foster taken on May 12, 2012 at KIIS-FM's Wango Tango at Home Depot Center.

Live review: Foster the People breezes into shiny, happy homecoming at Gibson Amphitheatre

Despite more than a year of nonstop touring in support of their full-length debut, Torches, there was no hint of fatigue evident from Foster the People as the L.A. band kicked off a well-deserved, weekend-long homecoming celebration with the first of two sold-out shows at Gibson Amphitheatre on Saturday (June 30, 2012).

Frontman Mark Foster (seen here performing in May 2012) noted it was the group’s “297th show in 15 months.” Yet he and the rest of FTP – Cubbie Fink on bass and Mark Pontius on drums, plus touring instrumentalists Sean Cimino and Isom Innis – showed a collective confidence in their 75-minute performance of mostly pounding dance-pop.

With the possible exception of Utah’s Neon Trees, which mined an unbelievable amount of pay dirt out of a single album (2010′s Habits) for more than two years, no group since Maroon 5 a decade ago has been able to ride this sort of big first wave of popularity with the skill of Foster the People. As the band proved over and over again before an enthusiastic crowd on its feet most of the night, the joy of playing accessible, rousing material with an inviting vibe always keeps people happy.

Whether playing less-familiar breezy summertime pop (“I Would Do Anything for You,” “Waste”) or firing off their similar hits (“Houdini,” “Helena Beat,” their breakthrough “Pumped Up Kicks”), the plentiful use of percussion and tasty layers of keyboards immersed the songs in a uniformed sound ideal for FTP’s upbeat approach. Meanwhile, Foster himself would prowl in front of the stage, or strum his guitar or pound away on a big tom-tom or play his piano, ever the ringleader, successfully offering a performance as infectious as the band’s tunes.

When four members of the USC Marching Band joined the quintet for “Houdini,” that sound was momentarily swallowed up, yet that provided a perfect enhancement to the song’s attack. Countless more members of the university’s top-tier ensemble lined up and played in the middle of the crowd heightening the dance party.

“Pumped Up Kicks” is as catchy as any tune in recent memory, especially its big, high-pitched chorus. It might get repetitive but its electronic flourishes help it gel, and Saturday’s unprompted and mighty singalong added to the sure-fire effect. It was a logical closer, the colorful confetti falling from the ceiling adding to a festive finale.

Of the night’s two openers, retro star Mayer Hawthorne was the stronger, though even that touted newcomer wasn’t superb. He’s a solid vocalist able to impressively convey blue-eyed soul in the style of Daryl Hall, but his play-to-the-masses approach lacks the grace, depth and sophistication of his greatest heroes.

And I was less impressed by 21-year-old Kimbra, guest star of Gotye’s inescapable “Somebody That I Used to Know,” whose Down Under sensation Vows was finally released stateside in May. The New Zealand native’s Gwen Stefani-esque vocals – also heard on “Warrior,” a song she sang with Foster & Co. during the headlining set – often grated against an ultra-heavy bass drum boom that quickly ground her nuanced music into a pulp.

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