Given that they once recorded a 36-track space opera while still in high school, it’s hardly surprising that Foxygen could make an album as ambitious as Hang.
Their complicated and calculated new record, released earlier this year, found high-minded friends Jonathan Rado and Sam France working with a 40-plus piece orchestra on every track, recording to tape and tasking Spacebomb superstar Trey Pollard with putting all its intricate instrumentation together.
On record, the tracks transform from sleazy Rolling Stones symphonies to complex George Duke-ian compositions to flapper hits within only a few bars. Dialled back to a relatively less ostentatious nine people on stage as part their current tour, all a sudden the songs were a lot more digestible.
With the lights dimmed and David Axelrod blasting from the Opera House’s speakers, Foxygen’s current touring band (comprising many their Spacebomb collaborators, including Pollard, a horn section and, later, a backup singer) walked out on stage and quickly got the crowd’s blood moving with “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors Peace & Magic.”
Lead singer Sam France, bounding around looking like Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s androgynous love child, played the role both master and commander, saluting the crowd while at the same time capturing everyone’s attention with his kicks, near-splits and slippery stage presence.
Classic numbers “San Francisco” and “Shuggie” were both recreated exquisitely by the band, but early on they struggled to keep the audience’s energy up, with the packed Tuesday night crowd politely hooting and hollering in-between songs, but feigning enthusiasm throughout.
Things got really interesting once the band dug into an eight-song section, playing every Hang track in order from front-to-back. Previously disparate and disjointed sections flowed with ease, revealing the strong songwriting on which the album’s ornate flourishes and odd time changes are hung; there was a costume change; and France — in terms pure musical technicality, probably the weakest link live, at least on paper — really made the songs shine with his adlibs and bravado. (Rado responded in kind, at one point stepping up on the bench from behind his piano to rip a filthy guitar solo, one leg placed firmly on top, spotlight shining bright. It was one the show’s main highlights.)
After a brief break in which digitally delayed feedback fed through the venue, the band returned for a four-song set that finally got the main floor jumping on their feet and grabbing for France as he gesticulated across the stage. The crowd was singing along to “On Blue Mountain,” and soon some them were even surfing for “Make it Known” and “No Destruction.”
Speaking with Exclaim! back in January, Rado suggested tracks from …And Star Power probably wouldn’t make any appearances on their current tour. That was a different time, a different band; these guys were too tight to play such loose songs. But that didn’t stop them from busting out album highlight “How Can You Really,” which sounded sweeter than ever before with a beefed up horn section.
The crowd packed in at the front let go their inhibitions, matching France’s on-stage energy as they screamed into each other’s faces, jumping and jiving. Turns out Toronto can actually hang.