CLEVELAND — Stars twinkled through the glass walls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the shore of Lake Erie, while inside Foxygen strutted in the spirit of the forefathers it honors. Frontman Sam France’s disheveled half-blonde mop and white facepaint mimicked Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, as did the mod-soul sound of last year’s (equally Todd Rundgren-inspired) double concept album …. And Star Power.
Nattily attired in white dress shirt and suit, France capered about the modest Rock Hall stage ably assisted by a trio of brunette backup singers as the band vacillated between the art-soul smirk of last year’s rock opera and their older garage-psych persona. The latter mostly lost, swallowed up in the hyper-stylized ’70s swoon of this new incarnation, which too often buried the ’60s Wurlitzer wail of France’s co-conspirator, Jonathan Rado.
Rado sat stage right in a red, white and blue fringe leather jacket, his keyboard sporting an old small-framed ’50s painting of Jesus Christ as a sort of hood ornament. Adams threw himself about the stage with an abandon that resembled dancing. That is, when not performing junior David Lee Roth-style karate kicks that came perilously close to inadvertently K.O.’ing someone in the front row.
The duo were backed by four more musicians (two guitars, bass and drums), bringing their membership to nine. (France and Rado are the only permanent members.) It all ensured a lot of energy, something for which Foxygen is known. Between the girls, the band and Adam’s manic stagecraft there was a lot to take in.
Sadly, the signal-to-noise ratio wasn’t particularly great. Whereas Star Power was able to control its excesses by peeling back instrumentation and changing tempos from track-to-track, the live show is pretty much wall-to-wall.
It isn’t even a question of volume so much as activity. It’s obviously not easy to do your Ziggy Stardust album about a rock and roll band’s rise-and-fall without going indulgent and over-the-top yourself.
The result’s a lukewarm mess. The songs — such as they were — got lost in theatricality that sometimes felt very community-theater. It succeeded in being entertaining, and everything beyond that was hit-or-miss.
Nowhere was this disconnect more apparent than in the first encore, which was preceded by several minutes of stage banter — not exactly the best way to generate applause and whistles.
Before the second encore, someone gave out mock awards to opener Alex Cameron and then Foxygen, the “greatest band in the world.” It was probably more amusing in the van when they came up with the idea. At least one hopes so.
The backup singers are an essential part of Star Power, and they brought energy and some cohesion to the live show. Two of the three were pretty good dancers, and the lead one wore a white back brace as a belt for her black one-piece. She was either fashion-forward or shaking her ass in a way that defied doctor’s orders.
The main issue with the live performance of Star Power was that everything was played “up” while a substantial part of the album is downbeat. One of the best songs, “Coulda Been My Love,” picked up enough tempo to lose its pathos, proving more suggestive of a backing jingle for an online dating site than an ode to melancholy heartbreak.
We overheard one person comment upon leaving the hall that it didn’t sound like the band, as she played a song on her phone for her friend to prove it. You’re preaching to the choir, girl.
It wasn’t that Foxygen was necessarily bad so much as they came on too strong to convey the nuance or depth of the music. There was a lot of sizzle, but you still grabbed fast food on the way home.
That was still more satisfying than opening act Alex Cameron, who for nearly a decade has been half of the Sydney, Australia, electronic duo Seekae. For last year’s solo turn, Jumping the Shark, Cameron — who resembles a young Julian Sands (Boxing Helena) — adopted a sleazy, self-aggrandizing persona of the type one imagines grows like grass on Hollywood’s hills.
It’s ultra self-aware, and not in an amusing way. It’s essentially the opposite of short, bald, white soul-singing lothario Har Mar Superstar, who doesn’t break his self-satisfied character either, but who’s actually a fine soul singer despite his outward appearance.
Like Adams, Cameron was trying to channel (Let’s Dance-era) David Bowie, but wound up seeming like he belonged at Payless Shoes. He’s not a great singer, and the pre-recorded tracks he sang to never popped, leaving only a tray of dry kernels.
We were envious of his sax-playing sidekick, Rob Molloy, who had a front-row seat for Cameron’s strange, angular dance-like movements. About two-thirds of the way through the “song,” he’d step up, do his thing, and that was it. Seemed like pretty good work if you could get it.
Whatever the night’s musical deficiencies, the setting was striking. The Rock Hall’s willingness to open some of the exhibit halls during the show allowed patrons to avail themselves of the brilliant surroundings and find other diversions. It’s part of the hall’s weeklong festivities in advance of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies on Saturday.