On Monday night at Camden’s Koko Club, the grandiose, Grade II-listed building previously known as Camden Palace and The Music Machine, a sold-out crowd flocked to witness the latest incarnation of Foxygen, California’s overblown baroque-psych magpies with a penchant for pillaging classic-rock poses from rock history whilst tiptoeing a fine line between unruly pastiche and method-acting sincerity.
After support act Proper Ornaments sprinkled a restrained, Velvet Underground-inspired spell of lovelorn jangle, Jonathan Rado and Sam France threw themselves into an operatic, manic set that drew heavily upon both their latest, orchestral outing, ‘Hang’, and the record that made their name, ‘We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic’. Now beefed up as a seven-piece live ensemble including a female backing vocalist, keyboardist Jonathan Rado and singer Sam France’s louche theatrics and demented retro-glam majesty were received ecstatically by the assembled throng of devotees.
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As the flamboyant, swaggering France channeled David Johansen from The New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Noel Fielding and Phil Cornwell’s ‘Stella Street’ impersonation of Mick Jagger, the band grabbed a rag-bag of fairly obvious, hoary baby-boomer influences – Philly soul, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, The Kinks, The Zombies, The Doors and specifically ‘Black and Blue’ era The Rolling Stones – before mangling them into unpredictable, non-linear shapes. Most of Foxygen’s oddball material starts off evoking cheesy, familiar tropes but distinguishes itself when it internalises and digests its forebears before whisking you away from the exact moment when the song appears to be on the verge of collapse.
The warmest appreciation was reserved for the chiming, nursery rhyme-like ‘San Francisco’ and a breakneck canter through the evergreen gurgle of ‘Shuggie’, one of the truly stand-out songs of the last few years. On ‘America’, the performance assumed the complexion of pure theatre, a messianic, love-bead spectacle, whilst ‘Avalon’ supplied a carnival blast of show-tune, Abba and Bowie. The latter demonstrated the key to this group’s appeal and its chameleon-like facility for transcending the sum of its inspiration: the epic fizz and scope, tasteful genre-switching and camp, revivalist excess are ultimately powered by an imagination and a sugar-rush spontaneity that haunt the listener.