It’s pretty amazing what a catchy tune about the fantasy of going on a school-shooting spree and a track used in an overplayed Nissan Versa commercial can do for a band’s career. This would be the case for Foster the People, who a year ago were simply another up-and-coming indie band out of Los Angeles. Now they have a song that is near the top of the Billboard charts and heard ubiquitously at trendy retail stores, and have made prominent late night television appearances on Saturday Night Live and the Late Late Show; in addition to having their studio tracks garner recent play on shows such as Entourage, Gray’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, and The Vampire Diaries. Just last night they played a 45-minute set of their material at the iconic Ed Sullivan Theatre for the Live on Lettermanmusic series that streamed to fans around the world.
This band has been able to reach out far beyond the usually more confined “indie-umbrella” and you can definitely get a sense of that by the buzz building around this free performance. A large line was formed down Broadway in Midtown Manhattan a good 2 hours before the 9 pm performance. Front-man Mark Foster has to be a little fazed by this seemingly instant success; as he walked out following his four other bandmates, there was definitely a discernible grin on his face in anticipation of this show, but Foster the People quickly got in to business jumping into “Houdini.” He later expressed his disbelief of playing on the same stage that fellow (albeit deceased) Angeleno Jim Morrison famously performed “Light My Fire” while on acid.
“Houdini” was the perfect track for the band to kick off with as it’s a great example of their upbeat and danceable style; the band played this track in a rather straight forward version similar to how it sounds on their debut album Torches, which was released last year on Columbia. Hints of MGMT-esque psychadelia swirl around the synthy loops throughout the song, which also displays the shifty range in Foster’s voice utilized on many of their songs. Pulsating drums quickly came in as the band went into “Miss You,” one of the other gems off of “Torches,” which relies heavily on rhythm as well as a building synth progression behind the vocals. Throughout the night, the musicians on stage were switching back and forth between guitars and keys, in addition to Foster pulling out an extra bass drum at times.
As each song passed, you could sense the band was growing more and more comfortable. Hits like “Don’t Stop,” which is getting constant play on the aforementioned nationally televised Nissan Versa commercials, had the crowd singing and shuffling well into the aisles. The two last songs of the set were surely the best signs of progression for this band. “Helena Beat” is another pulsating track incorporating heavy bass-driven synth tones that had the floor rumbling. Towards the end of the track they began to deviate a bit and turn up all of these elements as Foster began to pound the hell out of the bass drum much to the crowds delight.
With the crowd anxious for some more, Foster sat down at the keys and began with a slow lead into the song that got them to this stage, “Pumped Up Kicks.” It’s a little odd at first to see an entire crowd singing along to lyrics which fantasize about going on a killing spree (“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun”) but the delivery over a simple 4-chord progression, along with some whistling behind the lyrics, has made this one of the catchiest songs of the year. After the second chorus, the synths were once again turned up as Foster returned to the drums and morphed this song into a new creature altogether fusing electronic and dubstep elements. This extended version that they played shows great promise in what this band may be capable of. They clearly gained a lot of confidence as the night progressed and it should be fun to watch see what Foster the People have in store for us next.
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb