About two-thirds of the way through Foster the People’s sold out show at the Greek Theater in Berkeley Friday evening, frontman-keyboardist Mark Foster noted his band is just a handful of shows away from No. 300.
That’s 300 concerts since the band went from throwing “Pumped Up Kicks” at anyone who would have it, for free, online – 15 months ago – to a stage show that now includes multiple projection screens, giant blow-up album art characters, a marching band and a flame-headed emcee who oversaw the festivities through the mouth of a tribal-tattooed face projection.
Anyone who’s seen Foster the People live knows the band adds an edge to its ‘70s-inspired AM radio pop that isn’t present on debut album, Torches. The difference should be enough to attract some new fans who aren’t impressed by “Pumped Up Kicks” radio plays. Let’s call the live version “pumped-up beats.” Foster, bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius go to great lengths to recreate and enhance their sound in a live setting, which includes adding musicians rather than drum machines.
All this adds to a richer live sound. No matter what tune the band played – “Helena Beat,” “Call It What You Want,” “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls),” – it kept the audience dancing for most of the set.
“Love is patient, love is kind,” Foster quoted a Bible verse, before adding his own quip – “But most of all, love is awkward,” and launching into “I Would Do Anything For You.”
Main set closer “Houdini” was the perfect blend of ‘70s easy listening with theatrics: A marching band was called on to line a walkway that separated the floor seats from the stands at the theatre, with “flame-top” leading them on from his perch in the tattooed face projection.
The performance wasn’t perfect. A two-song lull toward the end of the main set was due to the band’s still-young songbook. Their ballads are thin of sound and could use some work. But that could be overlooked on this night thanks to two very strong openers: Kiwi songbird Kimbra (of the Gotye hit “Somebody That I Used to Know”) and retro revivalist Mayer Hawthorne.
Dressed in a tie-dyed cloak that slinked lower and lower past her shoulders, and backed by a four-member band, Kimbra worked the full length of the stage during a short set of funky, anthemic songs, and later joined Foster the People on current dance hit “Warrior,” which she wrote and recorded with Mark Foster and house producer A-Trak.
Hawthorne and his band brought ‘50s Motown and doo-wop – and dance moves! – providing a nice stop-gap between the other acts. Dressed in a red suit, bowtie and high-top sneakers, Hawthorne was clearly having fun dancing and harmonizing with his bandmates on stage, especially when his band slipped in a cover of Hall & Oates’ 1981 hit “You Make My Dreams Come True.”
While the music may be targeting the female fan base, plenty of men were bro-crushing by the end of his set.