Friday night, December 9th, SiriusXM’s Alt Nation hosted a private Foster the People concert at the Bowery Electric for a hand full of contest winners. Vinyl banners posted in front of the venue and on the walls inside boasted “TONIGHT ONLY” giving the air that something special was happening. Touring non-stop for the last year, two recent Grammy nominations, and Pumped Up Kicks having gone platinum, it’s no stretch to claim FTP as the “it” band for 2011, already proving they could sell out Terminal 5 a couple nights in a row. But this was different – it was “tonight only” and it was for the lucky – a lucky 150 people maybe? Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you’re a fan, to see a band at the height of their buzz, in a setting as intimate as your backyard.
In a room the size of a Manhattan studio, with exposed brick that you’d undoubtedly pay extra for, Mark Foster took the tiny audience through a short and sweet semi-acoustic set – once he could get some sound out of the guitar that is. With no time for proper sound checking, the band had just arrived at the Bowery fresh off the stage at Madison Square Garden’s Z100 Jingle Ball, the sound needed to be tweaked to Foster’s liking. Adjustments made, the set opened with Houdini, a track from the EP that became popular, despite it’s lack of official “single” status, with early fans looking to get their hands on everything FTP they could. Stripped down and raw, you can really appreciate Foster’s voice and the passion behind it, telling us – “focus on your ability”, advice we can see he’s taken to heart.
Unfortunately, during an acoustic Foster the People set, we don’t get as much as we’d like from band members Mark Pontius (drums, percussion) – still sporting his Movember ‘stache – and Cubbie Fink (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) – but just enough to tease us. The true sweet spot of this band truly lies in the complex instrumentation brought to life on-stage during a full on performance, of which typically drums and creative percussion are the highlight. Supporting/touring musicians Sean Cimino (guitar, keyboard, synthesizer, and backing vocals) and Isom Innis (keyboard, synthesizer, piano, maracas, percussion, and backing vocals) complete the sound, and Innis’ energetic moves take on Foster’s signature shoulder shrugs. With barely room to move on the stage, this show did not contain any boogie-ing.
“Helena Beat” brought cheers from the crowd and a welcome acknowledgement from Foster with his signature smile and nod. Taking it down a notch, Foster sat at the keyboard to play a rare slowed-down rendition of Waste, and then one of his confessed favorites, “Ruby,” a non-released, but recorded track that the band plans to release in some form, at some point. For those looking to rock out and grab hold of the infectious rhythm of the album, there may have been some disappointment in the treatment of the songs and the chill nature of the performance, but to those who appreciate the songwriting and hypnotizing lure of Foster’s voice – it was a gift.
Giving ‘um what they wanted, “Don’t Stop” and “Pumped Up Kicks” engaged the audience, complete with the opportunity to fill in the “stop” after Foster’s “don’t” and a sing-a-long to what may be the most popular chorus of the year, “all the other kids…”.Thinking about the journey these guys have been on this year, it’s pretty amazing to be up close and personal, but for all the good the year has brought the band, the relentless touring and promo schedule is definitely taking its toll. They looked tired. And who wouldn’t be? But the band’s commitment to their fans and early supporters is genuine as they recognized Alt Nation as one of the first mainstream radio outlets to play Pumped Up Kicks and the listeners of Alt Nation as the early adapters, helping the band achieve the success they’re enjoying today. This performance was a thank you, about giving back.
For the final song, band members left Foster on-stage with a bass guitar to “try something here that I haven’t done before” – a poignant yet jam-driven Silent Night – “cause you know, we’re getting close”. A completely different sound for Foster the People, it was an interesting way to end the show. When the band left the stage and only returned for a wave and some high-fives with audience members, jaws dropped in disbelief that the show was really over, but it was. It’s unlikely that any fan was disappointed with the performance but safe to say everyone just wanted more. Even though it is the holidays, sometimes there’s only so much to give. And with all the Foster the People we got in 2011, for fans of this band, it was like Christmas all year long.
Side note: I’d feel disingenuous if I didn’t mention one more thing. Consider it a little PSA on behalf of the die-hards, avid concert-goers, and passionate fans – of any band this can apply. Attending this show, I learned that concert ticket contest winners – either just plain lucky, or avid entrants I suppose, are an interesting lot. In this case, all you had to do was call in and win when Alt Nation played the acoustic Pumped Up Kicks that was recorded earlier this year in their studios. One would imagine that someone sitting by a radio, phone in hand, ready to call at said time, would be a pretty dedicated fan, someone who really wanted to attend the show, to hear a band they really enjoy, right? Not so on this night. Surely everyone at the Bowery was a fan to one degree or another, and at the very least is still “pumped” for Pumped Up Kicks, but please, tell me why you would waste your good fortune of winning these highly coveted tickets, by talking throughout the entire, short and sweet 35 minute set? Do you really need to lean back and take that picture of yourself and your date during the performance? I’m astute enough to recognize the “music lover” from the “fans” but damn, for such a coveted experience…can we give these people a quiz before lifting the velvet rope? Next time you’re at a show with only 150 people, show some respect. Respect for the talent in front of you that you, at one point, must have had enough admiration for that you tried to win tickets to their show. And two, show some courtesy to those around you who actually want to hear the music. The cynic in me knows this won’t change anything, but on behalf of music appreciators, I had to say it.