Foster the People, Cults, and Reptar
LC Pavilion, Columbus, October 2
by Kevin J. Elliott

I promised myself not to get too deep when I got home to write this review, if only because the three bands I witnessed on this night made nary an impact on any kind of cultural or intellectual surface. Reptar, Cults, and Foster the People instead are as flimsy and disposable as music gets these days. In their own unique ways, each band represented the inevitable commoditization of “hipster” as a musical genre. Curmudgeonly as that sounds, it was all too true in this setting. While I spent my afternoon pining for Fantasy Football points (admittedly low-brow entertainment, though it does take some skill and strategy), I spent my evening watching youth culture score negative yardage. This is not even taking into consideration the vacuous quality of the LC Pavilion, a place where sight lines don’t exist, the sound is barely passable, and commercials for Mountain Dew and the upcoming Skrillex show play ad nausea on big screens above the stage while the bands play below.

If you haven’t heard already, Foster the People are currently the biggest band on the planet. This show was a sellout weeks ago, which guaranteed the support acts would have a captive audience no matter their mettle. Reptar should be so lucky. The Athens, Georgia quintet seems completely nostalgic for the recent past, cribbing liberally from the still warm corpse of Vampire Weekend and the esoteric, über-bohemian jams of Animal Collective to create a vapid convergence of the two. Taking the term “slacker” to a new level, the band used preset samples and appropriated African guitar lines as a base to try and elevate the music of said bands into digestible dance-friendly nuggets. There was no dancing, just blank stares and ephemeral noise-making. For Reptar, everything was piped in, and besides the fresh-faced, barefooted lead singer, there was no emotion coming from the stage. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the most inspired set of the night.

I had much higher hopes for Cults (pictured). Since the release of the duo’s debut, I’ve been smitten with their twinkling, sugar-coated pop. It’s rooted in the generic girl-group phenomena of the past few years and displays a knack for original songwriting and minimal arrangements. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to put Cults onto the big stage is beyond me. They gained noticeable buzz from the crowd when they played their one awkward radio hit, “Never Saw the Point,” but the band was playing in complete darkness, so an equal experience could be had from hearing the song played out over the PA. It’s puzzling why a band that can bank on their cute factor would make the decision to keep it hidden from a new audience? Cults were as good as can be expected as everything unfolded exactly as it does on record. The duo has expanded to include anonymous dudes on drums and keyboards in order to replicate the record, but I prefer the stripped-down version. They would’ve made a lot more impact in a more intimate setting, showing their songwriting prowess as a smaller entity. Towards the end there was a yell for “more glockenspiel,” which was actually apt given the situation. This crowd wanted “Pumped Up Kicks,” upbeat club rhythms, and glaring neon lights.

All of those elements, of course, culminated in Foster the People’s indulgent set. I can honestly say I have a soft-spot for “Helena Beat,” but then again, it’s probably a nostalgic tinge that reminds me of better times: my first encounter with Daft Punk, knowing Phoenix was better than advertised, even a Killers’ single or two. I feel bad for Foster the People that they exist in this era. Their fame comes from television jingles, beach bonanza videos, and enhanced social media. This was not a concert for most of the people here, this was a social experience. For many, it was probably their first concert. But there was no rock, no roll, no attitude or teeth. Believe me, I’m a sucker for plastic pop frivolity, but not when it’s presented as an epic farce, as if Foster the People just stole the throne from U2 or Coldplay. Technology is the opiate of the masses, and tunes concocted with overstimulation in mind—see overused synth-melodies, dueling digital drummers, retina-burning light show—tended to rule the sheep here. They’re the feel good hit of the summer, granted, but how far will they make it into the fall?