They don’t make music like that any more. Except, they do.
Los Angeles’s Foxygen, whose headphone trip of a second album is in every way a calling card – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic – was a blissful, shambolic envoy from the past and Itchycoo Park on Monday at Wrongbar in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. Sharing a bill with fellow acid-age adventurers Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the young psychedelians were merrily (and safely, and a little wildly) led by Sam France, whose manner suggested appreciations for the charismatic agitations and hair lengths of Jim Morrison and the youngest Mick Jagger.
He sang serenely on the nice and innocent single San Francisco about where he’d left his love. To which an impossibly childlike female vocalist and tambourine-shaker counterchirped that it was okay, and that she was “bored anyway.” At other times France yelped and shook a little; he was watchable but neither really in nor out of command over the course of Foxygen’s well-received 45-minute set.
To my 49-year-old eyes, France and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado appeared as inspired middle-schoolers – shaggy passport-holders from a time when flowers had power and something like the languidly shimmering Beggars Banquet style of No Destruction held sway. “The door of consciousness isn’t open any more,” France lamented. That might be true, but hearing the paisley colours of Foxygen, the portal to past music appears absolutely unshuttable.
Nominal headliners Unknown Mortal Orchestra would remain unknown to me, as I skipped their funky psyche-rock jitter for another show down the street, at the Horseshoe Tavern, where the James Hunter 6 were into saxophone-happy, retro-sextet soul. Hunter is a blue-eyed Brit with a chunky guitar style and a taste for music-hall banter and danceable, Latin-tinged R&B from the best days of the Kennedys. He broke through in 2006 with the Grammy-nominated People Gonna Talk, and if they aren’t talking about him as much now as they did back then, at least his terrific new LP Minute by Minute revives some of the earlier buzz. Hunter has a personable, working-class way about him, but I could have used a little more noise out of that Les Paul he works with.
My trip through the new far-back had begun on the weekend at Massey Hall, where Daniel Romano opened for the roots-rock duo Whitehorse. Romano, a young cowboy from Welland, Ont., was a vision whose storytelling and sixties-country sound sparkled like the rhinestones he wore on his bodacious suit. Accompanied only by a pedal-steel guitarist, Romano made Massey into his own Ryman Auditorium for a little while.
Romano has endured whispers that his old-Nashville act is part shtick. But there was always shtick in old Nashville – hokey-folky artifice, right down to the price tag dangling off Minnie Pearl’s hat. And he’s self-aware; commenting recently about his flashback persona, he said, “I have an iPhone – I like living here.”
Foxygen, Hunter and Romano, none of them would call themselves revivalists. Their inspirations are true, just not newfangled, the music they offer, evergreen. All are fresh ambassadors, their diplomatic immunity protecting them from any cries of inauthenticity.