Foxygen’s press release for their upcoming album alludes to the band “living every rock cliche in a year.” The scope of this statement is too small: they’ve been a rock n roll cliche from day one, driven by the charisma and instability of their frontman, Sam France. Foxygen has checked off all the career highlight boxes of the legends they pay homage to (and occasionally transcend). The only ground left to cover is going solo…
On February 19 at the Bootleg Theater, Sam France took that next step by unveiling his record label, Fascist Records to the world in a complete breakdown involving self-mutilation, rants and incredible new music. If this was performance art or a public cry for help remains unclear. Regardless, Sam France and Fascist Records’ debut felt dangerous and unforgettable.
The night began with Jimmy Whispers setting the tone with a performance that had lead singer, James Cicero, monologuing between every song and antics that included pretending to hang himself with a microphone cord. It culminated in a trust fall off a stool into the audience, which had around 30 people at that point. I caught this act open for Gary Wilson earlier in the week and at both the energy felt as if someone could get hurt at anytime but, ya know, in like a fun way. The crowd is always on Cicero’s side as his brand of confrontation is rooted in positivity.
The same can’t be said for the headliner who took the stage next, a two piece composed of only drums and guitar. They begin playing… then France revealed himself, sporting freshly bleached blonde hair and a black leather jacket/sunglasses combo evocative of Lou Reed. When someone in the crowd made this comparison, France called the man a “digital copy of yourself”. Any references to Foxygen were met with similar disdain. He even alluded to the band being broken up (I’m calling BS on this considering his other half, Jonathan Rado, was in attendance). France opens the show by thanking any A&R’s who came to watch then proceeds to tear down the industry over the next hour through a microphone that put his voice at a menacing up-pitch. Every aspect was confrontational to the mostly-white, mostly-liberal audience: from the label’s name itself to France cavalierly claiming he’s happy Ryan Adams got exposed because France personally didn’t like him. Is this an artist giving a window into genuine problems that come with being the lead singer of a mid-level indie band or just biting the hand that feeds? Like Foxygen, authenticity and persona have no lines here.
Regardless of intent, as a pure live performance, France was at his best. His set was mostly composed of new material that’s dirty and hard hitting. His backing band existed for the sole purpose of making as much noise as possible. Despite the modest crowd, France brought stadium level commitment; using every inch of the space. We were treated to no shortage of stage moves including some Elvis karate chops. France also assaulted himself with a microphone, beating his lip repeatedly. Most of his set was performed with a mouthful of blood. He played two Foxygen songs: a punked up version of “San Francisco” and the title track from the band’s upcoming record, Seeing Other People, which France performed alone on the piano.
France performing Foxygen’s “San Francisco”
After the show I participated in France’s new “Individual Song Purchase Platform” which was a lathe cut 45 of two solo songs: “Fascist Rock” and “Freak of the Week”. Sam France sold the merch himself. The whole event had a sort of a Jerry Maguire feel: starting at the bottom with aims to upend the industry. But what is real and what’s positioning? Are there any kind of ethics to lying constantly for entertainment? Perhaps it’s okay if the deceit is to create a greater authenticity (think Lady Gaga or David Bowie). Regardless, I’m here to see where Fascist Records goes even though I still have no idea what it is.
Lathe cut 45 of “Fascist Rock” and “Freak of the Week”