Foster the People
Oct. 14, 2011
Better than: Seeing Maroon 5 in concert (and they're not bad)
There was a gigantic "Woo!" from the crowd at the mere sight of Mark Foster walking across the stage while instruments were being set up. In a few moments, he and the rest of Foster The People would enter in relative darkness to an ovation that lasted a little more than a minute. From there they killed it: An LED light show made the experience feel larger than the Fillmore could hold, as fans sang along with every major single off the band's album Torches.
The overwhelming feeling after seeing Foster the People live is some combination of surprise and guilt. This band is much better than anticipated.
Within a week of a much-criticized Saturday Night Live performance, Foster the People's set Friday at the Fillmore was clean, lively, and more engaging than I could have imagined. Mark Foster looks like your kid brother, but handles himself like a bonafide star -- he maintained a high level of vocal quality throughout, danced like Marty McFly across the stage, and rotated instruments from time to time, showing his versatility. And he is the star of this band. The other members provide solid backup, but Foster wears the button-down, addresses the crowd, and leans in to the adoring fans in the front row. The other members are in the background, wearing T-shirts and contributing backup vocals. It's no coincidence that Foster's name is in the band name.
Foster the People has all the makings of a rock band that can and will crossover to mainstream charts for years to come. Seeing it feels something like catching Maroon 5 after Songs About Jane had a few months of heavy rotation. The comparison seems a little fuzzy at first, but maybe your impression of Maroon 5 is Adam Levine hocking karaoke singers on The X-Factor and his band landing on Top 40 radio with "Moves Like Jagger."
There are a few surface similarities -- both bands are from L.A., and both have a heartthrob lead singer (NME even thinks the vocaists sound alike). But Songs Like Jane also traveled a very similar path to what Torches is experiencing now. A few songs did surprisingly well, with both critics and charts attesting to their merit (say "Harder To Breathe" compared with "Pumped Up Kicks"), which helped the band reach an unexpected level of popularity.
The ultimate point of all this: each of these bands ended up with four to five singles off the same album, then moved from clubs to stadium openers to eventual headliners. Performance-wise, Foster the People could make this move right now. It's not hard to imagine the members pairing with a band like Maroon 5 or Weezer and supporting them during a stadium tour next year.
The guilt part of the post-Foster the People experience comes from how you interpret this feeling -- how you decide what makes music "good." Is it possible to create something that satisfies the online music blogosphere, the radio stations, and even the live music junkies as well? "Pumped Up Kicks" certainly isn't a typical pop song (even if "Houdini" might be), and for now, Foster the People gracefully treads this line. The band's big single can be Stereogum's song of the summer, a Billboard hit, and a tune that merits the old "mic-held-to-the-audience" chorus all at once. I think Mark Foster knows this (certainly the latter part at least), and he and his band delivered on their promise accordingly at the Fillmore. The next time he holds his mic to the crowd in S.F., expect it to be inside a bigger room.
By the way: Cults is a good live band. Their album bores me at times, but on stage their sound grabs you, and lead singer Madeline Follin demands attention. Her antics are controlled, but her voice carries all over the place.
Personal bias: Yes, I have seen Maroon 5. I caught them with the Counting Crows near Scranton, Penn. I only regret taking in one of those sets. Adam Levine is compelling live.