Foxing | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com
Foxing brings drama, high energy, and beautiful catharsis to Union Transfer
You’ve got to hand it to Foxing; the St. Louis experimental rock outfit knows how to set a mood.
Before they stepped on stage at Union Transfer, all the lights venue’s lights powered off, and into the shivering pitch blackness piped the ethereal tones of Enya’s “Only Time.” Not the song I was expecting to hear at this juncture, but as the pulsing green lights faded up and the band walked out on stage — each clad in matching Foxing sports tees with corresponding surnames on the back — it totally worked. It was a bit of serious drama, a bit of ironic irreverence, and as frontperson Conor Murphy strutted to the edge of the stage, arms flailing at the front row like a conductor wearing a huge grin, he was the living embodiment of this dichotomy.
Foxing opened with “Grand Paradise,” the pulsing rager that also opens its brilliant new album, Nearer My God, and Murphy punctuated the song’s many twists and turns by pivoting on the microphone stand, slamming around center stage, falling to his knees, and then the floor. His bandmates — guitarists Ricky Sampson and Eric Hudson, drummer Jon Hellwig, bassist Brett Torrence, and Philly’s Carolyn Haynes on keys and sax — were equally energized and animated, and the energy was contagious, carrying across the packed house, but especially to the shrieking front row megafans who absolutely lost their shit when Murphy pulled out a trumpet to solo.
This was a marked difference in energy from my previous time seeing Foxing, opening for The World Is… on the tour in support of 2015’s Dealer. Though intense and elegant, that album’s meditative soundscapes simmered without ever reaching a boil. By comparison, the new album is a marriage of that approach with the unbridled, unflinching screamo of their 2013 debut Albatross — which was gripping, but kind of unfocused. Nearer My God shows that this band can still hit those energetic highs, but with support from beautiful and focused arrangements.
The set mixed in songs from Dealer — like a stellar performance of the atmospheric Sigur Ros tones of “The Magdeline,” and a pummeling “Night Channels” into a breathless “Three On A Match” — and a two selections from Albatross (“The Medic,” and the cathartic set-closer “Rory”) with much of the new record, which the crowd had clearly been absorbing since its release last month. “Bastardizer” was a stratospheric call-and-response anthem about coping with an absentee parent, while “Gameshark” whipped the crowd into a frenzy with “Gameshark” and its meditation on mortality and what we leave behind.
Murphy was a gracious and grateful frontman, and mostly used his moments of banter to effusively thank everybody around him — his bandmates, the openers on the tour (Ratboys, Kississippi and Cave People all contributed killer sets), the crowd, and gave a particular shoutout to Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, who mastered the record at Head Room Recording. “I like to think he brought a little bit of Philly into our album,” Murphy said.
Leading into “Rory,” he told the crowd “We’re gonna play one more song, and then we’re all gonna dance to the greatest song ever made.” And the song that came on as the amplifier feedback run out into Union Transfer? Cher’s “Believe.” Dramatic. Irreverent. Perfect.