photos and review by Christopher Meister
Ever catch lightening in a bottle? Well, if you were at the (very much bottle shaped) High Dive this past Saturday night you probably came as close as you are gonna get without storm chasing.
Playing to a very sold out, tightly packed crowd, LA’s freshly formed indie-pop/rock band Foster the People demonstrated clearly how the power of internet hype and a string of well received SXSW performances (including a recorded show for KEXP’s Radio Day Stage) can propel a band to success in seemingly less than time than we able to predict potential storms. Stopping in Seattle on a US tour that takes them through a series of already sold out shows, including performances at both Coachella and Sasquatch music festivals, and with a debut LP, Torches, out on Sony in May, it’s very likely they will never play a venue this small again. For those fortunate enough to be in attendance, Foster the People, in a highly appropriate fashion, made good on their buzz and put on show worthy of all the recent press engulfing them.
I arrived early to secure my spot, knowing that the venue would fill up quickly, and almost instantly made friendly chat for a bit with the fantastic Icelandic band, Bloodgroup, the night’s first opener who were closing out a long US tour. A little after the posted start time, and as the lights dimmed to signal the start of the night’s musical promises, a seemingly befuddling electronics glitch made it appear as if the show might endure further delay. Bloodgroup, however, quickly recovered from the potential issue and moved swiftly into their dark, smoke filled, electro pop set. Instantly affecting, soaring vocal performances from Sunna Þórisdóttir and Janus Rasmussen instantly pulled in the audience, blending well with the cool, twilight-tinged beats and textures that had been building up slowly from the beginning. Brandishing dual key-tars and dual vocal talent to a nearly full venue by the time they hit their forth song, the crowd responded very well to their physically emotive performance style. After a well timed and balanced set of danceable and balladry songs, Janus asked the crowd if they liked kick drum in America as much as they do in Iceland. After ecstatic “Yes”s from the audience, they bled the strangely familiar sounding kick drum right into a non-ironic, totally straight cover of Men Without Hats “The Safety Dance”, which after the initial humor-shock wore off, people fully embraced with their hips and heads. But not to be outdone by an one hit 80’s band, Bloodgroup ended with a fantastic smoke, light and laser infused original performance that left the crowd in a roaring applause.
After a very lengthy tear down and set up process, the nights second act – Fullerton, CA band The Steelwells brought on their brand of folky, percussive pop to the increasingly swelling venue. This Orange County band has had a bit of recent success in their neighborhood, including being awarded an O.C. Music Award for Best Live Band. However still very modest, they seemed rather impressed with the sizable crowd, and wasted no time engaging the fans (who had obviously shown up thinking Foster the People should have been slated to go on at that point in the night). They busted out of the gates right away and ran through a series of cohesive American indie rock songs. Sometime slightly funky, sometimes a little jangly and even sing-songy, the group always felt in tune with one another and seemed to be really enjoying themselves; playing passionately and sincerely were definitely their strengths. Lead singer and guitarist Joey Winter even opted to entice the crowd to a little call-and-response (which they agreed to participated in for the most part). But if anyone knew that you need more than honest folk stylings and authentic crowd engagement to stand out as a rock band touring through Seattle, The Steelwells knew it, opting to wait outside at the end of the night, to gift 3-song CD-Rs to everyone as they left the High Dive. Well done sirs, well done. Thats the type of thing will make people remember you around here.
Finally, just past midnight, and after an even lengthier sound check (which in this reviewers opinion could have been sped up with the help of a few more band members contributing perhaps), Foster the People took to the stage to much fanfare. There were so many teen screams and cries of joy for a second, that I had to do a double take to make sure I was not at a Justin Bieber mall signing (even despite it being a 21+ show). It’s was easy to see why though, the band members did carry a certain charming youthfulness about them. It was an invigorating vibe in the venue to say the least. They seemed very pleased to be in Seattle for the first time, with frontman Mark Foster asking to share some songs with the crowd while sporting a big cheesy-yet-endearing grin. They wasted no time in starting out the set with a few crowd pleasing, peppy new tracks presumably off their forthcoming LP. Using slow-building warbled intros, and cheery eyed vocals, coupled with four on the floor percussion and often subtle multilayered synth touches, the first couple songs would set the pace for the rest of the show.
Throughout the set, band members were constantly swapping instrumentation roles. Originally a three piece band, the touring five used no less than 4 keyboards, 3 drum stations and various retro-electronic and percussion “toys” in addition to standard guitar and bass foundations. It was clear the band was intent on making all their sounds with the least possible computer assistance, perhaps in an effort to stand out live amongst the many familiar sounding acts making their rounds. By the time their self titled EP favorites “Houdini” and “Pumped Up Kicks” came on, the High Dive was a full blown sing along and dance operation. At one point during “Pumped Up Kicks”, Mark Foster offered to let his mic stand fall nonchalantly into the crowd, leaving an ecstatic group of dancing girls to sing the chorus. By the end of the night, the band definitely had struck a chord with the crowd, who were heartily disappointed to see the set end after only 40 minutes. An understandably demanded encore did see the band play another fan favorite “Helena Beat” and close out with a less than intricate new cut, “Don’t Stop”. Aside from the partially falling encore, the only other lacking parts of the show may have been the somewhat disappointing harmonizing during some songs, and lead vocalist Foster’s surprisingly uninspired and stiff-bodied visual performance (particularly when compared to the rest of the bands moving, fully engaged playing and ). As frontman for an up and coming indie pop rock act, I would expect a more dynamic showman out of Foster. But this is the first time the group have been time making big rounds. I would guess by the time they finish out their national tour and have played to very large Coachella crowds, that Foster the People make it to the Sasquatch Music Festival fully embracing peak pop performance, and likely put on a show worthy of their deservingly expedited hype. When that time comes, though, they’ll be on stage for the many many North-westerners who will likely have heard of their thunderous potential, but missed capturing the lightening the first time around.