Portland is chronically nostalgic. For which decade? Apparently, all of them.
[P]ortlandia creators Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen once made the claim that “the 90’s dream is alive” here, but the well-preserved architecture also suggests a tight bond with the 20’s. On the other hand, the surplus of vintage clothes, furniture, and retro-themed music events suggest that we have an even stronger allegiance with the 60’s and 70’s. Regardless of decade, a prominent selection of Portlanders are indisputable masters of aesthetic preservation, making it no surprise when throwback bands like Foxygen find their shows sold out and well-attended.
The opening band, Pure X expressed their own nostalgia through spacey, stone-washed guitars tempered with spikes of melody. They presented a chunk of the psychedelic 60’s sound that set itself apart from Foxygen’s own time-traveled approach in maturity, tempo, and attitude. The members looked the part; playing with their heads down, eyes closed, and long hair dangling in faces while swaying with the smoke from an incense bundle burning at the front of the stage. In retrospect, they look like the “Mystics” from the 1982 film The Dark Crystal – peaceful, hunchbacked wizards who move across the land in a sort of slow motion waddle. The crowd enjoyed it enough, but the experience might have been more affecting had we all been coming down off drugs and reflecting on a succession of debauched weekend parties.
Between sets, Foxygen members Jonathon Rado and Sam France shuffled around on stage frantically until finally starting with their short and fuzzy jam song “Bowling Trophies.” And without hesitation, they lit off into “Make it Known” – a song with so many hooks and changes, it’s really like a handful of songs in one. The song begins with a synthesizer melody which paves the way for France’s incoming lounge-singer-vocals like flower pedals on an undulating runway. It then shifts into a sing-a-long anthem, complete with “Ooh, la-la, ooh la-la”’s and builds to a bouncy, heart-wrenching chorus before a descent into an echoey internal dialog, and another rise to announce that if he isn’t talking to “the voices,” he just talks to himself. The breakdown verses in this song (and a number of others) will make you swear they cheated by splicing in 8-track-version samples of The Rolling Stones. But alas, no cheating is required as France has been blessed with multiple-vocal-personality disorder.
Speaking of warranted duplication, guitarist Jonathon Rado, in his flat-brimmed hat atop curly, dusty brown hair, silk blouse, and skinny legs was a dead ringer for Blonde on Blonde-era Bob Dylan. The shoulder-mounted harmonica he donned halfway into the set did little to offset this impression. But his get-up was a side-note after watching him play guitar like a shadowy Jimi Hendrix reincarnate who seemed to be saying, “Wha’? I don’t even know what I’m doing right now…uhh… sounds good, yeah?” Yeah, Rado. It sounds good.
Depending on which direction you were facing, the crowd was either spellbound, bored, high, drunk, giddy, or conducting research. And, depending said states of mind, the band was either going through the motions exhaustedly, or throwing their souls into their performance. The show was a sort of potion everyone ingested; all the good ingredients were in there, but, like most things, what we saw and what we took away were purely subjective.
Despite all this throwback, duplication, replication talk, Foxygen is in no way a weird cover-band pitifully infatuated with a decade they never actually experienced. If anything, they are historians. Well versed not only in the careful mechanics and nuances that went into the construction of rock-and-roll in its heyday, but in the heart and passion it took to lift audiences off the ground.
Check out pictures from Foxygen’s Portland show at Holocene below.