Focus on smash single ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, and it’s not all that difficult to dismiss Foster The People offhand. A seemingly inane track, it takes as many listens as the world’s radio station playlists seem determined to give it to see past the hooks and clock on to what it’s all about. The single takes a leaf from Bob Geldof’s book in depicting a high-school shooting, but does so in a curiously Sixties pop-meets-electro way that offers a peculiarly upbeat angle on the idea. It’s hooky and infectious, sure, but if ‘infectious’ hasn’t crossed the line into ‘irritating’ for you at this point, you’re a more patient soul than I am.
At Electric Picnic this summer, though, Foster The People were still walking that line, and strolled onto one of the smaller stages early in the festival before threatening to induce a love-riot. We must admit, we suspected it might be a case of musical zeitgeist; a one-off resulting largely from good timing. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Foster The People are indeed at the cheesier, more hook-laden end of that trend for an electro-rock blend, but live that matters not one jot. Tonight’s Olympia show reaches relentless, pulsating highs right off the bat.
Opening with a catchy ‘Houdini’, the band’s light show makes an instant impression, being as stark and beat-driven as the chorus lines themselves. While the early tracks fly past in a parade of bouncing enthusiasm, Mark Foster himself whips the front few rows into a frenzy, patrolling the stage front and contributing on a variety of different instruments. The sound is slick and almost blasé, a blend of modernised happy-go-lucky pop that has an intense likeability factor when delivered with such energetic enthusiasm. In a live setting, with the guitars more prominent in the mix and the mid-song beat sections extended to allow for Foster’s own take on moonwalking down the front, those occupying the Olympia’s boxes sum up the atmosphere: they dance so enthusiastically there are a few moments when we wonder if the box might come down, or their moves might take them over the edge and into the crowd below.
Clearly, it doesn’t take the bigger end-of-set hits to get the Olympia jumping, but when the likes of ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Call It What You Want’ poke their heads above the parapet, the concept of Foster The People as a one or two track radio-play band is a thing of the distant past, and tonight’s move from the smaller Academy is justified many times over. ‘Helena Beat’ is perhaps the feistiest highlight, delivering on full-on throbbing electro-pop heaven, the refrains of “don’t stop” still echoing through the audience in the quieter corners. The finale, of course, is inevitable, but accompanied by Foster crowdsurfing his way from the stage of the Olympia and delivering pitch-perfect lyrics from the heart of a crowd that is utterly enraptured. You might have all the ammo you need to dismiss Foster The People – not least in our photographer’s observation that they occasionally sound just a little bit like fellow Californians Maroon 5 – but if they keep reeling off live shows like this, the odd overplayed irritant isn’t going to prove at all hard to ignore. James Hendicott