Fans expecting Foster the People to close their ACL Fest 2017 set Friday evening with mega-hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” an anti-gun violence anthem about a troubled kid who fantasizes about shooting his classmates, were met instead with a cover of John Lennon’s “Love.”
While the band didn’t specifically attribute the song’s absence on the playlist to the mass shooting in Las Vegas (they actually played it again in San Antonio last night after declining to play it Monday in North Carolina), frontman Mark Foster delivered an impassioned three-minute speech about the need for unity before launching into the Lennon cover, dedicating it to standing “in unity with our brothers and sisters who were affected by the Vegas shooting” (and rapidly dispersing the crowd).
“The last three years working on this record were interesting. Every morning I’d wake up and read the news and there would always be some kind of tragedy somewhere… And then the political situation in our own country, ripping apart friends and ripping apart families—dividing us more than ever… Writing this last record, I felt it was really important for us to make a joyful record, using joy as a weapon. Because joy is the best weapon against oppression. It’s the best weapon against depression,” Foster said. “People aren’t inherently evil. The stories on the news make us think we’re surrounded by danger… but people are inherently good…. We’re more united than you think.”
Everything leading up to the emotional closing was the typical by-the-numbers blockbuster of a set you’d expect from the now three-time ACL Fest alums. The band’s a bonafide hit factory, and despite my best intentions to not be won over by the LA-based act’s car-commercial rock, polished synths, layers of party percussion and well-developed performance chops, I quickly (though somewhat begrudgingly) had to admit I was entertained.
Sporting a tucked in undershirt, chain, rings, and monochromatic prison-style tattoos paired with a young Johnny Cash’s slicked-back hair and Michael Jackson short, painted-on pants, white socks, and black shoes, Foster strutted and slid across the stage with swagger. His dance moves may not reach MJ levels, but his energy, knack for falsetto and do-do-do-driven earworms, and ability to pull of things that would be cringe-worthy in another lesser performer’s hands (see: the semi-spoken word bits of “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy” or the band’s straight-forward cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” performed tonight by Foster with a custom guitar covered with shards of broken mirror) made the set an undeniable crowd-pleaser. Save for a pair of slower numbers midway through the set, including “Sit Next To Me,” hands were in the air and spirits high throughout the hour-long sunset performance.
Foster The People play at Stubb’s Thursday, Oct. 12 and return to Zilker Park for Weekend Two of ACL Fest.