Concert Reviews

Foster the People Carry the Burden of "Pumped Up Kicks" at South Side Ballroom

Foster the People With St. Lucia South Side Ballroom, Dallas Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Foster the People may owe their fame to one thing and one thing only -- "Pumped Up Kicks" -- but that doesn't mean they can't still sell tickets. With their wave of one-hit-wonderdom still yet to crest, it's no surprise the Los Angeles trio sold out their Tuesday night show at South Side Ballroom. Yet singer Mark Foster and his band seemed to wrestle uncomfortably along the way with a variety of fame, and in particular a hit song, that they no longer seem to know what to do with.

In terms of the sold-out crowd, the Ballroom appeared to be hosting the largest group date night Dallas has ever seen, with an audience slightly older than one might expect for an indie pop band. The venue was already close to full when Brooklyn's St. Lucia took the stage and South African-born singer Jean-Philip Grobler was dressed the part. He wore a floral shirt, and along with his four-piece band resembled the Beach Boys -- albeit filtered through the enthusiasm of Glee and all the campiness of an Old Navy commercial come to life.

St. Lucia's sound is typically and unmistakably '80s, so much so that if they had emerged during that time they might've been as successful as Duran Duran. What began with strong power ballads gradually transformed into a show Erasure might've had in their prime: wonderfully layered sounds full of deliberately dated effects, a driving bass, reverb-drenched synths, smoke machines, and a wind machine which conspicuously only blew onto Grobler.

All things considered, St. Lucia's brand of '80s dream-pop throwback made for an excellent choice to set the tone for Foster the People. The crowd certainly seemed satisfied at any rate, excitedly obliging Grobler when he requested a picture of the crowd before exiting the stage.

After teasing the crowd with a seemingly endless storm-like sound of synthesizers grunting, Foster the People started a very mellow party with uniform drums, which remained nearly identical throughout the first four songs. They opened with tracks off their latest album, Supermodel, which this crowd had clearly never heard. Nobody sang along until much later, when they began to play popular songs off their first album, Torches. To be fair, the lyrics delivered were nearly unintelligible.

The show felt incessantly rehearsed but the playing was sharp. The sound was as tight as a studio recording, allowing for details such as the occasional moody guitar or use of a xylophone to be easily discerned.

Lead singer Mark Foster, who looks more like a Facebook intern than the lead singer of a pop band, has a nasal and boyish voice, but once it came through clearly, it worked brilliantly. The falsettos came across as particularly effortless. He didn't begin to work the stage until at least four songs in, but then danced with the ease of a person unaware of an audience. The crowd never let loose until the band did, and finally woke up when the drummer had. Very few people were actually dancing, and judging by the number of uninterrupted personal conversations among audience members, it became obvious that lots of them were there just to listen to "Pumped up Kicks." Such is the plight of a band built on a flukey hit.

Just as the performance became suspiciously over-produced and studied, the singer stopped in the beginning of "Helena Beat," claiming that he forgot the lyrics. He joked that he was making sure that the crowd was still with him. It seemed rehearsed, but, intentional or not, the "moment" had the desired effect, and the crowd got increasingly louder.

Ironically, "Pumped up Kicks" was the most disappointing delivery of the night. The chorus was sung much too quickly, as if the intention had been to get it out of the way. Foster stopped singing and extended the mic to the audience, with an apparent wry look on his face as they sang along. This was the only song to receive no special treatment, having the least ornate production, like they were deliberately trying to disassociate themselves from it. And yet such a half-hearted effort is more than a little ungrateful coming from a band who owes much of its fan base to that song.

After a very unconvincing exit off the stage, FTP closed the night on a relative high note with "Don't Stop," which was nonetheless prefaced by some babbling statement about World War II and machine guns, and instructed us to let go or some similar Disney-type sentiment that nobody understood. He then proceeded to extend his arms Scott Stapp-style during the emotive melodies.

In the end, it's obvious still that this project began on Foster's laptop a few years ago. The delivery is almost too flawless, without grit or soul. At times it seemed less like a concert and more like a great party. But it was a party nonetheless, and an impressively well-produced one at that.