The San Francisco music scene usually experiences a bit of a bump before and after the Coachella festival when (almost) all the hippest bands of the year can be found on the West coast. This year was no exception. One of the more exciting shows was Thursday’s super-bill of Queens-based Freelance Whales and Oxford-based Foals at the Great American Music Hall, a line-up packed about as much contrast as possible.
The Freelance Whales, led by Judah Dadone and his banjo, released their debut album in late 2010 after considerable hype with less than stellar critical acclaim. You have heard their song “Generator First Floor” because it has been used in at least ten different commercials, including a Twitter spot, since then. This was also the closing song of their set, and the best. It is easy to tell from their live performance why Freelance Whales have everyone so excited. They are cute as a button. They also provide the comfort of sounding just like your other favorite indie-electro pop-rock band. Their synths (and glockenspiel) provided by the stylish Doris Cellar and her haircut helped singles “Hannah” and “Enzymes” twinkle even more in person than on the record. The set was balanced, starting strong, laying low with a more acoustics in the middle, and ending on a high (if ubiquitous) note, the band delivered live what it promised on Weathervanes, with the additional bonus of being nice looking. While the music is far from groundbreaking (Death Cab is an obvious influence) or fresh (Owl City is an unfortunate comparison) but those hoping to catch them on a summer tour shouldn’t be disappointed in what they see.
Freelance Whales: “Generator First Floor”
With that type of precursor, the set by Foals seemed a bit like a triple espresso to the senses. Antidotes, the first album by Foals, was one of the more exciting, original and unique rock albums released in 2008, and anticipation was high when they released Total Life Forever two years later. It was clear that these skinny, bearded rockers who had garnered attention with tight, exciting rock music had grown up and taken a turn for the melodic. Their earlier hits, “Cassius,” being the strongest and most crowd-pleasing of the evening, are characterized by energetic guitar and impossible-to-stand still bass lines, and stood out clearly from their second album material. Vocalist Yannis Philippakis really sings on songs like “Spanish Sahara” which, despite sounding more than a little like Robert Smith, works out quite well for everyone in the end. The transitions between new and old didn’t distract but rather worked together to create a show that was clearly put on by a band becoming more itself, rather than trying to be something else. It’s an exciting thing to watch, particularly as more and more bands (including the co-headliners, unfortunately) seem to be opting for the latter.
Foals: “Spanish Sahara”