Foxtrax may be from New York City, but the three band members feel right at home in Los Angeles, at least they played with the confidence of LA natives when they took the stage of the El Rey Theatre on Tuesday night. I had seen the trio in a much smaller place last year, but they have now teamed up with Barns Courtney for a North America tour and the sky seems the limit.
‘LA has the chillest vibe,’ told us frontman Ben Schneid mid-set, ‘We are glad we call this place home,’ he added to confirm his intention to definitively adopt Los Angeles. He started the show sitting behind a keyboard to play a song with a poignant pop melody, something bands usually do to slow down the pace mid-show, but it was a good introduction to Schneid’s big emotional howl, which continued to shine when he switched to guitar in front of bandmates brothers Stenz. Schneid is certainly the singer and the frontman of the trio, but Jon Stenz’s powerful and pounding drums working with Jared Stenz’s elastic to barely funky bass brought up the dancing elements to Foxtrax’s pop songs. Just like last year, Schneid was an enthusiastic and charismatic frontman, often interacting with the crowd, encouraging the clapping and bringing full passion with his high octave howls, which were never overpowered by their adventurous indie rock.
At the end, Foxtrax’s music could be more defined by expressions like heartfelt energy or bottomless enthusiasm, than by any genre name, the poppy hooks can be huge (just listen to ‘Got It Alone’), while melancholia can surface with tearing guitar and emotional vocals (‘I’ll Be Back For You’). And they played with the exact same intensity all the songs, which probably included a few new ones, since, so far, they have only released a 5-track EP, ‘The Cabin’, recorded and produced by Reed Black [Karen O, Vampire Weekend) and Ben Roulston (Florence and the Machine). Schneid’s powerhouse took a few heights during some of their tunes, while he was asking us if we were having a good time. This is what seemed to matter for them, being an entertaining band while playing good tunes with a fierce passion, making Schneid’s vein neck swell at each one of his howls. Their story says they decided their band moniker after finding a fresh set of fox tracks in the snow, when they were living in a cabin in North Carolina’s woods in order to find inspiration for new music. One thing for sure, their passion was communicative, triggering clap and sing along and during their last song, the catchy and bouncy ‘Underwater’, which reminded me what this other indie rock band Young the Giant does, Ben Schneid ended the show with a big jump from the drumset.
Barns Courtney arrived on stage as in conquered land, but he certainly was entitled to such entrance, since the crowd followed him everywhere. It’s interesting to see two artists (Foxtrax and him) touring together and playing relatively large venues like the El Rey when they both have only released a 5-song EP! If Barns Courtney sounds like a new name to you, on stage, he has the confidence of an artist who has toured for decades. Actually I should reformulate this, there is stage confidence and there is Courtney’s incredible swagger, lighting a new fire on stage at each one of his furious stomping songs or taking over the entire place during his sweeping grandiose pop. If you have never heard about him, just be aware that his most recent single ‘Fire’ has more than 12 million streams globally, with over six million in the U.S. alone, and the video for the same song has more than 2.6 million views on YouTube. It certainly helped that the song was picked for the soundtrack of the Bradley Cooper movie ‘Burnt’, but plain confidence combined with giant hooks had to lead to this, and probably more.
Just read a few things about the young England-via-Seattle man and you will learn how determined he has been to make it since the beginning. This did abundantly translate on stage through his most stormy songs like ‘Glitter & Gold’ which stomped into a gospel chain-gang like a Jack White early dream, or ‘Hands’, a sort of handclap jubilation à la Black Keys which swells into bombastic proportions, or even ‘Hellfire’ embracing the same busy fiery bluesy inspiration.
Despite the swagger, Courtney couldn’t believe the crowd ‘Four times bigger than any crowd he had ever played for’, after narrating a story of him performing in LA at a much smaller place, the Hotel Café, but displaying the same a fired-up energy there too: he jumped out of a table which collapsed in front of all the record labels executives.
Of course, he also had calmer songs, not on the EP (so I guess unreleased) that he sang with his same filled-with-confidence throated powerhouse and giant hooks that he delivered, one after one, even when he switched to piano for ‘Attraction of Youth’. The songs he played with less instrumentation brought the same reaction from the crowd, which was dancing on its feet and clapping along, at this point, Barns Courtney seemed unstoppable.
After a bumpy road in his career – his first band was signed straight from school then dropped by the label – he was left with no plan B. But there was ‘Glitter and Gold, an UK radio hit, and ‘Fire’, which he obviously chose to end his show at the El Rey. Courtney is now a rising star determined to succeed, and he is already half-way there, as he opened for The Who at London’s Wembley Stadium and for this other British songwriter, mega-superstar and friend Ed Sheeran.
At the El Rey, ‘Fire’ started like a ‘ooo-hey’ dialogue exchange with the crowd and it turned into the cathartic ending everyone hadn’t even dare to hope for, savage and ferocious with a guitar smashing at the end… ‘I wanted to make it special for you’… did he get the idea from the Who? It was both surprising and not surprising, but if you want to become a rock star, you have to behave like one.
Never Let You Down
Glitter & Gold
I Think I’d Rather Die
Hard to be Alone
Attraction of Youth