The death instinct and the erotic are constantly battling it out in your head. More specifically, in your subconscious. Though this theory stems from Freud (who is obviously a point of contention for feminists), there is truth to this fight between Thanatos (death) and Eros (love) in our subconscious psyche. Foster The People’s show this Friday at Union Palace Theatre – one of the most beautiful, ornate, venues in the city – fortuitously demonstrated these opposing forces.
Soko, the opener, unveiled Thantos. The band is headed by Soko herself, a spry, oddly endearing young woman with a bleached bob, sparkle platform sneakers, and a long black tulle tutu. She was frenetic and energetic – helter-skelter. You know, if Ally Sheedy aka “The Basket Case” of The Breakfast Club had ever formed a band, I imagine this is what it would’ve sounded and looked like. Soko was very talkative with the crowd, explaining songs along the way and sharing her experiences. One such story was of a meeting between her and a fan in which they connected over their scarred past and the feat of not being suicidal anymore, (this was her introduction to “Destruction of the Disgusting Ugly Hate”).
They tried to warm up the crowd with a sing along of “Bad Poetry” – “The worse you sing it, the better,” she assured us. There was a dance break midway through where she encouraged us to embrace our inner alien and get freaky with our dancing (during “I Thought I Was An Alien”). She came to the front of the stage and hula danced, did some cartwheels and shimmied her derrière at us all. She obviously was over caring about how others think of her. She’s an alien, and who cares. The band exited stage to let Soko do a simple drum solo, singing, “I’m getting closer to a nervous breakdown/ Can’t you see?” Their last song was “We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow” – a slow one where they brought out a cello as a slippery orchestral element. Through their lyrics and performance, it was clear that the death instinct of self-destruction tormented Soko.
French group, Soko, were a bit of a strange match for poppy and peppy L.A. outfit, Foster The People. Their stage set up took advantage of the entire depth and breadth of the stage with a raised back area set up with multiple synth and keys stands. Tips of icebergs pierced the stage from below. A swell of ambient synths gestured the entrance of Foster The People. Lead man, Mark Foster, took the opening sonics of “Pseudologia Fantastica” to just feel the music and the crowd. He stood center stage, eyes closed, face upward, arms outstretched, and rocking to the beat. The rainbow-colored lights shot out from above, behind, below, and through the icebergs.
Most of their set was comprised of songs from their first album, Torches. The fast-paced “Miss You”, followed – including a relentless drum duo, and then “Life on the Nickel” which was a bit more melodic in comparison. “Best Friend” was definitely a crowd-pleaser. Contrasting the songs from Torches and the latest album, Supermodel, it was apparent that their sound has evolved from a focus on keys and synths to a more rock-based, guitar-centric sound.
“Coming Of Age” was surprisingly just as triumphant live as the recording, if not more. Afterwards, Foster paused to remark on the power of music – that this group of people, this show, will never be together again; and that’s the power of music. Everyone out there is experiencing this in their own way, but we’re all together regardless of our class, religion, education level, gender, race, age etc.
Throughout the set, the band members were rotating instruments and locations on stage. Having six musicians eliminated as much as possible the use of pre-recorded backtracks and gave the band the liberty to extend songs into jam sessions. For instance, the end of “Houdini” was expanded into a totally different song by the end, driven by the bass. (I’d like to call this jam the “Pineapple Jam”.) The lights turned a soft pink for the sentimental “Ooh la la/ I’m falling in love” of “I Would Do Anything for You”. Eros shines through.
Foster’s voice was pitch-perfect the entire show. Though he sings in a very high, nasally tone, his speaking voice between songs was quite rich. The use of his lower register for “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” alongside the guitar and bass lines were very satisfying in their heaviness after a pop-driven set. They picked up afterwards with a power set of “Are You What You Want To Be?” and “Call It What You Want”.
They chose “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls)” as their last song pre-encore. But before playing it, Foster shared with us something he’d been thinking on lately. He asked us, as New Yorkers with a unique “indomitable spirit”, to know the truth, embrace the truth, and find the strength to stand up for the truth against powers that would have us silent. It was a provoking sentiment, but seemingly out of place at the time. However, when they returned for the encore, it all clicked into place.
The room had been buzzing in their absence, “Are they going to play ‘Pumped Up Kicks’? They’ve got to!” The band re-entered, and Foster asked us if we’d seen the news this morning. Another school shooting had been reported this morning in Seattle. More people were dead and injured. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. It’s only going to get worse. So instead of playing that song – which explores the compulsions of an “isolated, psychotic kid”(*) – Foster asked for a moment of silence. It took a few seconds for the fuzzy guitars and amps to fade out and the crowd to truly comprehend.
And they took a moment of silence.
The beautiful, gilded, ecclesiastical venue became a vacuum. Foster The People let the silence extend as long as the crowd would allow it. Disappointingly, it was broken by the ignorant, testosterone-fueled, blindly patriotic chant of “U.S.A.”. Our love of America isn’t the answer to violence against humanity. As Foster had expressed, we are the answer. Humanity is the answer. If we want a change, our silence must become words – demands for change. “We make the laws.” We have the voice. We the people.
In taking responsibility for the social messages they inherently spread and reinforce through their music, Foster The People refused to play “Pumped Up Kicks”, and I respect them for that. Though the song was meant to spark conversation about teen violence, the true political message behind it hasn’t gone far enough, yet (*). Music can be transformative, but it can also insidiously reinforce toxic social behavior such as violence. Feeding Thantos.
“There is a truth, there is a light if you’d follow me there,” states the chorus of “Truth” – their encore song of choice. So what do we do? Do we let Thantos, our death instinct and compulsion for self-destruction, do we let it win? Or do we turn to Eros and love. What’s your inner truth?
And they lifted their voices.