The crowd at Union Transfer erupted in applause Oct. 10 as Foxygen, a Californian psychedelic rock group, took the stage. Lead singer Sam France was wearing a blazer with no shirt underneath and heavy eye shadow under his long, blonde hair. His three backup singers wore flashy sequin dresses. The group looked like a ‘60s prototype punk outfit that had time-traveled to 2014 without knowing — or caring.
A similar observation can be made about their music. Core members Jonathan Rado and Sam France began playing together in high school because they shared an interest in ‘60s psychedelic rock. Their work as Foxygen is reminiscent of many artists from this era. One minute you’ll hear the nasally doldrums of a Bob Dylan verse and the next, a deep, powerful cry of a Mick Jagger chorus.
They rely on the classic guitar, keys, bass and drums, but detail their recordings with a multi-instrumentalism that you’d expect from a Beatles record. I had never seen them before, but I was told their live show was more like something you’d expect from Iggy Pop — high power and plenty of stage antics.
Just as the crowd began to quiet down, the band hit hard with their new single “How Can You Really.” Rado played multiple keyboards at once while France took the mic off the stand and began climbing and dancing on every object he could find on stage — monitors, bass drums, etc. The backup singers, mostly adding “oohs” and “ahs” or repeating one of France’s hooks, swayed side to side in sync with each other. The crowd was pleased.
After this, they played a slew of material off their new album, “… And Star Power,” which was unreleased at the time of the show (it came out Oct. 14). The energy remained even when the crowd was not singing along.
About halfway through the show, they returned to their well-known material, cranking out heavy-hitters “On Blue Mountain” and “Shuggie.”
Most would expect the last song to be the grand finale of the show, but the most exciting part of the night happened right after “Shuggie.” The band started to play “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic,” the title track of their last album. “We Are” is a trance-inducing jam with a hippie mantra that seemed to drive France and the rest of the band to the tipping point of their craziness.
France dropped the blazer and jumped off the stage to hug and hold the hands of those in the front row, all the while head-banging and dancing like a maniac. When he got back on stage, Matt Pulos, the lead singer of the opening band, ran out and kissed France on the lips for a solid 15 seconds. Pulos then jumped on Rado’s keyboards (while Rado was still playing) before diving into the crowd and surfing it until the end of the song.
At this point, I was more than satisfied with my ticket purchase. The band went on to play a few more classics, but mostly new material. They missed some of their biggest hits, like “Oh Yeah,” and “San Francisco,” but the performance continued to entertain with more crowd-surfing, unexpected stage appearances from Pulos, and a satisfying encore.
The ringing in my ears as I walked away from Union Transfer was completely worth the spectacle I had just seen. As I talked with my fellow concert-goers about the show, I learned that Foxygen has been to Philadelphia once a year since 2011. If they show up again next year, don’t miss your chance to get enlightened by the 21st century ambassadors of peace and magic.