And, truth be told, our experience with The Voice set the tone for the rest of our evening, and made for a rather fitting analogy. Why? Because — like Foster the People — The Voice is something that a lot of Americans apparently really enjoy. And also, there's some serious, genuine talent there. And surprisingly, two of the final four Voice contestants seemed rather unlikely, as they were certainly unconventional in the "pop star" sense. Of course, the cute straight girl and the hunky straight guy were the "Final Two," but still ... we were impressed that America has grown up enough to vote two lesbians into the final four of a prime-time singing-competition program based solely on the attributes that matter: They were talented, and they were good performers. Also, Maroon 5's Adam Levine is on The Voice, and that has a lot to do with the show we were about to see.
Really, we're as baffled as anyone that a band as new and fresh-faced LA's Foster the People sold out Cannery Ballroom — a venue with a capacity of roughly 1,000 — a week before their date. But this is the sort of meteoric rise that we've seen before with acts like Fleet Foxes, MGMT and Vampire Weekend, so it was definitely the sort of act we intended to weigh in on. And as we shuffled into the Cannery, we weren't exactly surprised at the crowd we discovered: some youngish hipster types and show-frequenting indie-rock and electro-pop fans, but mostly cargo-shorted, polo-sporting bros. Seriously, the average number of pockets-per-fan at this show probably hovered somewhere around eight or nine. Also, we noticed right off that a contrarian Spin cohort was working Foster the People's merch table, which gave us a chuckle. This guy definitely absolutely hates Foster the People, and sure enough, his ensuing tweets reflected as much.
Local openers Canon Blue — a band that, we hear, features
at least one member of some guys who have played with local pop outfit Paper Route — sounded like they were artificially created in a lab with the intention of being ideal openers for Foster the People. There was a pretty even mix of conventional instrumentation and samples/electronic whatnots, they played in a clean, skillful manner, and they delivered catchy pop numbers — not catchy enough, however, to rival the tunes of Foster the People. While we can't say we were impressed enough to remember how any of the songs went, we'll definitely say this: It's nice that this trend of rock bands featuring dudes with strong voices has been on the rise lately. Ain't nothing wrong with having a good voice and being in a rock band. But that doesn't change the fact that guys like Dylan and Reed and Waits blow our minds on the reg. Fantastic, singular songs trump strong voices any day of the week.
After what seemed like a relatively protracted amount of set-up time, Foster the People took the stage to a near-hysterical welcome. Like, seriously. We couldn't possibly accurately describe the absurdity of seeing a guy with a neck the size of The Spin's waist (and a watch that costs as much as our car) screaming, "WOOOOOO, FUCK YEAH! I LOVE THIS FUCKING SONG!" in reaction to a tune that sounds basically like Maroon 5. Sure, most of FTP's songs are much more smartly and uniquely constructed than those of Maroon 5, but try to tell us that "Call It What You Want" doesn't sound like it could totally be a Maroon 5 deep cut.
Anyhow, the boys of Foster the People are very strong performers. The songs were absolutely album-quality in their delivery, and the moments we wanted to hear shimmered in their ear-grabbing, saccharine glory. "Pumped up Kicks" and "Helena Beat" were, as we'd anticipated, met with ardent applause, forcing The Spin to shield ourselves from a flurry of sharp, flailing elbows. (So many tiny, inebriated, dancing females.) But as we filed out of Cannery Ballroom, something struck us: The cultural measure of a band isn't how well they play live. It isn't even how catchy their songs are, or how many iTunes downloads they have. The measure of a band is how transcendent, powerful, timeless or meaningful their songs are. Against that scale, Foster the People certainly isn't a Beatles, a Zeppelin, a Stooges or a Ramones. But they do make fun, pulpy pop music, and there will always be a place for that.