I haven’t watched live music in some time so I decided to buy a concert ticket online to watch Foster the People. I’m not the biggest fan but I occasionally revisit their catalog. I had zero clue how they perform live. And among all the artists I have witnessed on stage, the band would be the least mainstream. In short, I had no expectations
After “Pumped Up Kicks” dominated radio, the demographic they appealed to was a black box to me. Listening to their albums, you’d understand why I said that. A hodgepodge of sounds is the most accurate phrase I can use to describe the sound. Crafting an identity for the group and boxing them into a genre are impossible. Even they would acknowledge this in a track they label as “Call It What You Want”. Yes, it’s better than the similarly named Taylor Swift single.
I made it to the theater at 8pm and it was far from full. A mother and two teenage kids sat beside me and I thought that was good investment for family time. Until I realised the mom was babysitting her children and that made her gesture more admirable. There was a teenage couple sitting in front of me and the boyfriend seemed to have a problem with the world. He kept on raising his middle finger and would look angrily at the crowd from time to time.
That was the demographic I suppose – teenage kids and people in their early 20s. All of them full of angst and are coming of age. If you’re wondering, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. There were others who were in my age bracket or much older. I guess if you’re a fan, age is a number you can ignore. I would discover later I had a close friend who I failed to synchronise calendars with and a peer who would not mind going alone to watch the group. But I digress.
The theatre was eventually filled and Mark Foster and the rest of the band came out on stage. There was the lead singe – wearing a bandana, sporting a mustache and would later take off his shirt and leave only his sando on. His dance moves were either awkward or a challenger to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Helping his case was him being in a band. That converted his confidence to sexiness instead of douchiness. This was a man ready to lose himself and play with the crowd for the rest of the night.
How can a band sustain the crowd’s interest for a concert lasting two hours? What do they have to offer? They had zero art production – no props, costume changes or backdrops, elements that normally serve as amplifiers to the show. Instead, they relied on their melodies which was as varied as the rainbow’s colors.
The general public has an impression that the band is “alternative”. However, they have punk-pop, EDM, psychedelic, and even intergalactic and tribal in their arsenal. I was witnessing them recreate all of this diversity on stage. “Blitzkrieg Bop” would end up getting played alongside this spectacle. Every time Mark had to take a drink or a quick rest, the rest of the band would cover for him through their display of talent – utilizing their drums, synthesizer, guitars and just about any instrument the band can get their hands on.
Throughout the entire show, I am constantly reminded that they make catchy tracks that will get you hooked. I don’t understand why none of them broke out on radio or streaming services. But “Call It What You Want”, “Don’t Stop” and “Houdini” are the jams crowds go wild for.
There were melancholic and somber moments in the show which moved me. But those were not the highlights. Or maybe because I’ve never heard of “Ruby” until they performed it. Sappy moments were standard offerings for any artist. But the variety in their sound and the crazy energy they displayed made them special.
If you had a notion that Foster the People take their fans for granted, their actions during the show should dispel that. Take out the standard “Salamat”, the gibberish I had a hard time comprehending, the overwhelming appreciation, the gratitude they project for playing in Manila, and the stories about any connection they can establish with our heritage. All artists performing in a foreign nation do it.
The band took an extra step. They played Freddie Aguilar’s “Bayan Ko” in the background and injected their sound in the best way they know how – playing instruments and making new music no genre can describe. Mark Foster called out a loyal fan and repeatedly threw a guitar pick at her direction until she managed to catch one. Considering the rest of the world fought for a piece of the band, the commotion went on for some time.When the show was over, Mark would stick around to sign whatever thing his fans made him – a concert ticket, a shirt, or half of a pair of sneakers.
Before the encore, artists pretend to say goodbye and expect fans to demand their presence. It’s ridiculous to shout “MORE” even though you know they are coming back. I did it anyway.
Eventually, they closed the show with “Loyal Like Sid and Nancy” and “Pumped Up Kicks”. Needless to say, the choices were perfect. The two tracks are reminders of why I stuck around with the band all these years and why I fell in love with them in the first place.
Sidenote – what would happen when “Pumped Up Kicks” played and some pyscho interpret the song’s lyrics literally and begin a number on the audience. I imagine this scenario often. But when the band played, I was in the moment and my worries were washed away. Or at least I went gaga that I completely forgot about it.
If you ask me, I’d watch Foster the People again. I’d recommend you do the same. Here is a band not just playing music but creating it right before your very eyes. There’s no insecurity in a style that’s undefined and unrefined. That’s the way it should be.