Treefort: Anatomy of a buzz band with Foxygen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

When a festival bills itself as an “emerging acts” event, how better to start than by unleashing nationally recognized buzz bands on opening night?

The second annual Treefort Music Fest stomped on the gas pedal Thursday.

Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra played back to back at the El Korah Shrine Center, creating an unlikely but entertaining bizzaro-world atmosphere. Old-man Shriners in El Korah trucker caps happily sold $5 cans of Bud Light to young hipsters, who packed the charmingly time-warped geezer club by 9 p.m.

When bands have this much buzz, it’s tough to live up to the hype.

The reception was rowdy and festive for Foxygen. The group snags its look and attitude from the 1960s and early ’70s — think Rolling Stones — and certainly isn’t the first to do that. But on stage, Foxygen tries too hard to be something it’s not. Frontman Sam France (below) oozed reverbed-Morrison swagger as Manzarek-tinged keys rolled. And the band, which has a punk gear, certainly was potent when it hit a crescendo of swirling psychedelia: an ominous guitar-chord progression and psycho-carnival keyboards descended into cathartic madness.

But everything — from the fat-collared retro clothing to the look-at-me tambourine thwacking — felt like a calculated effort to manufacture coolness. Foxygen’s sophomore album is no slouch, and the Pitchfork crowd adores the group. But it’s difficult to imagine Foxygen evolving into something more than a stylized era facsimile. Video from the show here.

0322 local treefort

Power trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra arrived from the opposite end of the slickness spectrum. Wearing I-don’t-care attire including baseball caps (both backward and forward), the group got off to a strangely slow start — particularly after Foxygen’s bombast. The band’s sound-man-in-a-poncho eventually figured out that volume drives impact, bumped up the faders — and UMO quickly shined. This group also wears its psychedelic and pop influences on its sleeve, particularly on record, but can flat-out play. Vocal harmonies were solid, and UMO’s rock often morphed into roaring, buzzsaw power jams.

As audience fists pumped skyward and singer-guitarist Ruban Nielson uncorked another hot, smoldering lead, something became obvious: Despite the eclectic, indie-appealing album, UMO isn’t so much a buzz band as a jam band. Hipsters? Prepare to smell hippies. UMO has a hold date at a Boise club, so don’t be shocked if these guys return.

Michael Deeds is the Idaho Statesman’s entertainment columnist and Scene magazine editor. His column runs Fridays and Sundays. He appears on the 6 p.m. broadcast of "Today's 6 News" on Thursdays and hosts a music show, "The Other Studio," from 9-10 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.

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