A few years ago music was in need of development in a different direction. There have been legitimate bands that have emerged over the past couple of decades, but for the most part anything new has mirrored an act that had come before it one some way, shape, or form. Groups like Audioslave and the White Stripes found their touch before fading away. Bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Bush have attempted to find their way back into music after each took an unnecessary hiatus for a decade before finding that music moved on without them. Then there are the rare bands that have stood out in a time of mediocrity- bands like Coldplay, Incubus during their peak, Phoenix, and Vampire Weekend. I’ve always fallen back on bands like Pearl Jam and The Chili Peppers- they’ve been my rock when it comes to rock. At the end of the day when so much is changing and bands are breaking up and bickering over nothing, the Vedder and Kiedis gangs have held their ground and have consistently proven how timeless music can be.
As Lollapalooza and Coachella have emerged as premier places for new acts to showcase their stuff I’ve made an effort to get to as many of each as I could over the past five years. I’ve made an effort to check out side stages at each venue in hopes of something grabbing me and wrapping me up with musical chills. As music has flat-lined and jolted back to life over recent decades questions have risen about whether it can ever get to where it once was. No one will ever be The Beatles, and no one will ever be the Rolling Stones. But suddenly new life has emerged, and a new genre has given a soaring uplift that’s been ever so needed.
I’ll never forget my first Lollapalooza- the year it made the jump from traveling festival to Chicago standstill. I had seen the likes of Incubus, Audioslave, and Jane’s Addiction when it was a touring show in 2003 before Perry Farrell had decided to make Chicago the festival’s home. I was living in DC at the time and as August approached I reviewed the lineup daily looking for something to grab on to. As I anxiously looked through set times and researched new bands, something zapped my brain as their unique sound journeyed through my ear drums. The tone resonated for days and I began to take a liking to the way they meshed electronics with strong guitar chords and subtle vocals that paired perfectly with the original sound they created. For the first time in a long time I found myself playing their songs on repeat constantly. That band started a movement I don’t think people pay enough homage to yet. That band was MGMT.
I remember seeing MGMT play their set at Lolla and their stage presence wasn’t everything I’d dreamed it would be. They were soft, they lacked enthusiasm, and they dumbed down their amazing studio catalogue. They’ve gotten better since, and it’s rumored that before Oracular Spectacular dropped in 2008 they had never played a live performance. That being the case they deserve a get out of jail free card for their first Lollapalooza show. But what people don’t realize is what they brought to music. For the first time since nineties grunge the electro-indie-funk-pop-dance movement, or whatever you want to call it- jumpstarted music. And finally, after three years, new bands are emerging in the same mold. They’ve taken what MGMT started and twisted it up, making it their own. And though similar sounds have followed the same guidelines, I believe there are two bands that are here to stay. Those bands are similar yet so unbelievably different. Those bands are The Naked and Famous and Foster the People.
The best part about living in LA is that when bands are up and coming, they play LA venues as much as LA will have them. The Naked and Famous hit the airwaves strong with “Young Blood,” the first single off of their debut album Passive Me Aggressive You. Alisa Xayalith looks like the last person in the world to have the lungs that she has. Her appearance makes you think she should be reading under a tree somewhere but when she steps on stage, she transforms. When I heard they were playing the Echoplex in West Hollywood last March, I jumped on stub hub to pay the minor tax on a GA ticket and convinced five others to do the same. Alisa seemed overwhelmed by having a song rip through radio stations so quickly and from the moment I saw her she seemed humbled by everyone’s enthusiasm. In between songs she showed her nerves, but as the band crawled further into their set she hit her stride. As I left the show and picked up a hard copy of the album and a t-shirt I thought to myself- She has no idea how big she is going to be.
As I wandered through a sweaty desert day and sundown neared you could notice a small heard shifting gears and joining together for an act that had been whispered about since Coachella kicked off Friday afternoon. “Pumped Up Kicks” had just come out and to be honest I didn’t like the song. I thought it was cheesy, mainstream, and although it was catchy I feared for them being labeled as a one hit wonder. As I listened to the other two tracks they released on their ELP, I heard something innovative and it made me want to dance. Or run. Or something. I’d play “Helena Beat” on the way to work every day, and I’d jam to “Houdini” every day when I got home. If I felt like shit, these songs got me going. They gave me the chills only a fan knows the feel of. But this was before I realized how good they were. This was when they were just starting to crawl as a band, and Foster hit and missed when I first saw them live but the potential was evident. The work and fine-tuning was going to be the hard part. They weren’t nearly as impressive as The Naked and Famous were in their first outing, but it was partially due to the sound. But Foster touched on a rare demo where girls could swoon and dudes could jam. They were a mix of good music and the right image. But consistency would be their biggest obstacle. I’ve watched them blossom and when people ask me why I’ve seen them seven times in six months I tell them I can’t help it. When it comes to music and I’m a fan, I’m the same kid who had a Nirvana poster on his wall in elementary school.
The music world has woken up and people need to embrace the emergence of one of the catchiest and most likable sounds in music history. Rather than listen to “Pumped up Kicks” or “Young Blood
on the radio, I urge you to go see these two bands live. Or go for a walk, and listen to both albums in their entirety. I’m lucky and I’m spoiled because I live in LA. I have The Greek, The Hollywood Bowl, The Echoplex, The Wiltern, The Troubadour, The Palladium, The Music Box and The El Rey. If you don’t know what these venues are, look them up. These are the venues where music became music. But there’s this beautiful thing called touring, and the best part about bands like these is that in every city they play they’re on a mission to make you a believer in them. And although some people see the correlation and others see difference, these two bands project unique style all over their debut LP’s and they unquestionably have one thing in common- they’re talented, and they’re growing as artists.
I’ve now seen The Naked and Famous four times. Since that first show at the Echoplex I’ve watched them establish confidence and the shyness has transformed into dark confidence. Now when Alisa takes the stage it looks like she’s dancing for no one. The harmonies are spot on, and their set has been perfected. There’s always the question of whether or not a band can replicate the success of its first album when it hits the ground running like this band has. But do yourself a favor if you can’t see them live. Pick up Passive Me, Aggressive You. The album is crawling with hits and jumps around providing diversity and versatility. “Young Blood” may have been the spark, but listen to “All of This” and “Girls Like You.” The guitar solo on “All of This” is simply breathtaking, and the collaboration of vocal talent on “Girls Like You” is nothing short of perfection. I’ve seen them play their Hollywood shows and I caught them on a 90 degree August afternoon in Chicago at Lollapalooza. And to be as cliché as I possibly can- they rock.
I remember when I was a kid I used to stay up until one in the morning with headphones plugged into my boom box so my parents wouldn’t know I was awake. I guess that explains why I’ve seen Foster seven times in the past six months. When they’re in town, I can’t help but justify spending forty bucks last minute to go and see a slightly different variation of what I’ve already seen multiple times. But like The Naked and Famous, Foster has grown into something and I remember exactly how I felt after seeing back to back shows at The El Rey last summer. They were good, but their set was the exact same as it was the first two times I’d seen them. Their shows at small venues entertained the die-hards and seemed to give the boys a lot more confidence then the festival crowds who gathered just to see them sleepwalk through “Pumped Up Kicks.” At first everything was orchestrated, and even glances and moves on stage were calculated far before the show began. They needed to change, and they needed to come into their own. They had to hit their stride and have the confidence to realize their unique sound and stage presence was indicative of pure originality. As I walked into the Wiltern in early October for the first of two Foster shows, I didn’t think I could take one more mainstream performance of “Pumped Up Kicks.” I didn’t have to.
The Wiltern lights up Wilshire Boulevard like something out of a fifties painting. The carpeted area and balcony seats are untouchably classic. The only thing that doesn’t mirror the past are the ridiculous alcohol prices. But classis style met modern music on the first night they played, and Foster some was spoiled with incredible lighting and although the sound failed briefly during their set, they put on a stellar performance highlighted by a unique rendition of the song I’d come to hate. When a band can rise to the occasion and bring something original to the table it speaks volumes about their potential as artists and the direction they’re headed. For an encore, Foster combined “Pumped up Kicks” with a Dub Step remix and the opening acts joined them on stage as the entire venue erupted into one huge party. I don’t like Dub Step and I really can’t overstate enough how much I despise that song that started the buzz. It has single-handedly stereotyped a band whose debut album Torches has seven tracks better than it. The album is versatile, it’s fresh, and every change on the album leaves you wondering what band you’re listening to until Mark Foster’s catchy pitch pops in out of nowhere. The last two shows I’ve seen a different Foster- a band that jams on stage and switches instruments, takes to the crowd, feeds off the energy, and believes in themselves. Nothing has been more entertaining for me as a music fan than watching them grow as a band. As I left the venue after their second show on a Tuesday night, I couldn’t even turn the radio on as I drove home. I was legitimately sad knowing that I wouldn’t be able to see them for another five months or so- my guess would be the next time I’ll see them it’ll be where it all started, but with a slight upgrade from the tent they played last April. I think they’ll be on a main stage at Coachella this year.
Wake up. Embrace what’s going on. Indie and dance have combined with electronics to give music a new feel. And with the help of a charismatic vocal talent that has been absent for quite some time, bands like The Naked and Famous and Foster the People should help to turn music upside down. There haven’t been shows this entertaining in a long time, and while bands like Vampire Weekend and Phoenix have set the stage for making new music relevant once again, these two bands should and will inspire other artists to emerge and embrace this new culture we’re lucky as fans to witness. I can’t stress enough how worth it the small sacrifice of one night is to see them on tour. Look them up and get it while it’s hot- they’re on a mission to prove their worth. Step up and take your spot in line. The new revolution has already begun.