The meteoric rise of Los Angeles band Foster the People reached its current apex with an appearance on Saturday Night Live last week. The next night, the band was here in Seattle, performing just one sold-out show in its tour itinerary that’s full of them. Like a lot of people I’m sure, the band’s damnably catchy single “Pumped Up Kicks” had been rolling around in my head for a while, but I don’t think I quite understood the level of buzz these guys have generated until I showed up to what would soon be the packed confines of the cavernous Showbox SoDo.
In the line that was stretching close to 100 yards long outside the venue before doors opened, excited fans were breathlessly discussing their excitement. Some, unable to wait for the show presumably, huddled around an iPhone and sang along to “I Would Do Anything For You.” Scattered among the throngs of teenagers was the occasional 20- or 30-something, but the high-schooler-friendly sound of Foster the People was apparent.
Opening the show was Athens, Ga.-based Reptar playing songs from their EP Oblangle Fizz Y’all, the title of which probably paints a pretty good picture of these guys. Their rough-hewn, danceable energy capsules were a little baffling to much of the crowd, as was a reference to Twin Peaks. Never mind that we’re in the state where the show was set; most of the audience wasn’t even born before it was off the air and is probably more of a Jersey Shore kind of crowd anyway. No matter — Reptar has a bright future nonetheless.
Next up were New Yorkers Cults, who displayed the same frustratingly enervating manner as when I saw them earlier this year. The band’s self-titled debut is a dreamy, lo-fi featherweight, and Madeline Follin’s gauzy, sugar-sweet vocals are just as nice live, but their sets feel a little listless. The effect is better if one just closes their eyes and enjoys the music — or alternatively, just listens to the album.
Follin’s attempt at crowd connection didn’t go over quite so well either, as her slightly insincere-sounding proclamation “We love Seattle, we love Starbucks,” was met with half-hearted cheers and one guy’s “Fuck Starbucks!” Props to whoever chose to project Night of the Hunter on the wall during the set though — Charles Laughton’s gorgeous compositions made up for the lack of visual interest on stage.
Foster the People promptly took the stage at their set time and blasted through the entirety of debut album Torches and a few b-sides. The band’s energy is palpable and certainly feeds off the enormously loud and engaged audience, but I’d hesitate to call them a great live act. While the frenetically paced, retina-punishing light show helps create the illusion of dynamism, it’s a lot of the same on stage. Frontman Mark Foster sings his piece, then leaves the microphone to cycle through a small rotation of white-boy dance moves. Reset and repeat.
That’s not to say the band doesn’t put its all into the performance. Far from it; it’s just that lots of moving parts and repetition don’t make for the most riveting stage presence. One could say the same things about Foster’s electro-lite pop songs, which sound even more similar to each other in a live setting. Most are fun listens, especially when the band stays away from the droopy sentimentality of songs like “I Would Do Anything For You” or “Waste.” The jangly “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” is enormously likable and despite the fatigue from ubiquity “Pumped Up Kicks” is suffering, it’s still got one hell of a hook.
The hooks came fast and furious during Sunday’s show, which had me nodding along in recognition to nearly every song despite having made only a solitary cruise through the full album. Most of the audience was much more familiar, pausing from singing every word only to furiously shriek for the band.
The only dead spot was during the encore opener, an unreleased, half-assed piano ballad called “Ruby” that was quietly tolerated while the masses waited for “Pumped Up Kicks” to finally make an appearance.
At this point, it’s a little tough to tell if Foster the People is a legitimate contender for the top of the kinda-sorta indie with lots of mainstream appeal heap or just another flavor of the month. It may not the be most satisfying pop music out there, but if they can write another album packed with hooks like Torches, they ought to be okay for the foreseeable future.