Midway through Foxygen’s electrifying one-hour set at Turner Hall Tuesday night, fidgety frontman Sam France stopped the show in its tracks to make time for…some comedy. Rattling off groan-inducing gags about current pop-culture news (Burger King is paying for the wedding of two people named Burger and King!) France briefly played the role of an Alan Shemper-esque comedian before his band slammed into the opening notes of “Let It Be.” “This song is by The Beatles!” he helpfully explained, before quickly shutting it down. “We don’t normally do this, but…” he deadpanned, before launching his group into one of its best songs, “Shuggie,” from 2013’s excellent We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic. It was a whirlwind of weird—preceded by the band leaving the stage and playing a skipping record of its other great song, “San Francisco”—and a nice summation of the controlled chaos France and company whipped up throughout the night.
Much has been made in the indie-rock press about Foxygen’s current tour being its last. In actuality, it represents the final hurrah of the California group’s current incarnation as “Star Power” (a nod to its latest album, …And Star Power), which finds the core Foxygen duo of France and Jonathan Rado joined by seven other musicians, including two high-kicking backup singers/dancers. As a nine-piece at Tuesday’s show, the occasionally languid, occasionally psyched-out recording artists transformed into a loud, frenzied, and bombastic live band better suited for arenas than ballrooms, with a stage show that fell somewhere between the theatrical weirdness of friends Of Montreal and the hyperactive sexuality of Milwaukee’s Rio Turbo.
Songs from both Star Power and 21st Century Ambassadors were well represented at the all-too-brief (and not-crowded-enough) show, including favorites like “On Blue Mountain” and “Coulda Been My Love.” France, despite being dressed in the “something your 14-year-old brother might wear” style of the day, proved to be a perfect gonzo frontman, swinging his microphone (and stand) wildly over his head, and indulging in some agreeably offbeat stage banter. (After noting he was in AA, he revealed that a drink he had sipped earlier was ice tea. “It’s an old Hollywood trick!” he exclaimed.)
But “controlled” was the key word in “controlled chaos.” Though France spent more time in the air and on his back than grounded on stage (past comparisons to Foxygen and The Rolling Stones were backed up by France’s “ADD Mick Jagger” act), the band was incredibly tight and perfectly calibrated. As the group kicked off its encore with “No Destruction,” it was clear that the eventual loss of “Star Power” will be a shame. There was real joy emanating from all nine members throughout the night, and even more as the show came to a close. Whether or not the next incarnation of Foxygen—whatever that may be—can match its current persona remains to be seen.
Opener Alex Cameron, meanwhile, proved to be a pleasant surprise. Approximating a lounge-lizard version of Nick Cave armed with a drum/synth machine, a live saxophone player, and the lyrical bite of Father John Misty, the Australian singer easily won over the Turner crowd. Contrived or not, his set was funny, tuneful, willfully weird, and a fine appetizer for the chaos to come.