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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

On the calm disco-like indie pop of "Sit Next to Me"

...and the marching band rendition of the track I heard tonight.

Today... marked my final Cal football game as an undergrad. (And we beat U$C!)

In the three years I've been allowed to go to games as a UC Berkeley student, I've totaled 27 Golden Bear football contests after today, with 19 of them being at home at California Memorial Stadium.

It's really strange for me to think about today this way. I've been going to Cal games since I was 6, and I've run the emotional gamut doing so, from the heartbreak of 2007 vs. Oregon State — "the scramble," as I call it, to the highs of 2018 at U$C and the 122nd and 124th Big Games at Stanford in 2019 and 2021. All that time, I've thought back to the various other games I've attended, but I've never been to emotional about being at a game until today.

In savoring everything I can about today's contest, I take the time once more to think about the Cal Band and their role in shaping my game day experience. They've been a constant all these years, augmenting the triumphs and helping soften the blow of the defeats. I have the utmost respect for them and the work they put in. In been highlighting a song they play as part of each game's halftime show on my Senior Year Soundtrack, I do what little I can on here to pay tribute to them for all they do.

With the above in mind, today's halftime show is themed on the resurgence of disco, highlighting 21st-century pop songs that call back to the bands and dance floors of the 1970s in their sound. My favorite of the songs they chose to fit the theme is Foster the People's "Sit Next to Me," which has a calm, but infectious indie-disco groove that fits the casual narrative in Mark Foster's lyrics.

There's a coolness to "Sit Next to Me" that I really admire from a pop standpoint. When people think disco, they tend to think of the high-energy grooves that bred frenetic dancing at Studio 54 and the like, but disco can also take a slower, more laidback side, and Mark Foster and company captured that side well in their third single off Sacred Hearts Club (2017).

In disco-inspired pieces more than any other, the difference in energy levels is determined by two instruments: the drums and the guitar. The drum groove — which sounds to me like it's played on a drum machine, and really cuts through the other instruments — is simple, laying down the backbeat and otherwise leaving space for the other elements to do their jobs. The guitar only comes in during the chorus, and while its role is more active, its tone remains calm and behind the lead synth. In fact, I'd argue that the bass in the verse has equal or greater energy in its sound than the guitar in the chorus, and that's even with the bass having to stay behind Foster's more active lyrical line. Overall, though, no element in the track sticks out as being particularly energetic in the floor-shaking, first-pumping sense... and that's perfect for the mood "Sit Next to Me" is trying to capture.

Listening at Mark Foster's vocals, it's clear he's trying to capture a calm atmosphere with the small range his voice inhabits — a perfect fifth (B3 to E4), from what I can hear. The smaller a vocal range or frame of a section can often be an indicator of lesser intensity (though this isn't always the case, as the Killers' "Mr. Brightside" clearly indicates). When paired up with the lyrical narrative, that feeling is augmented if not confirmed. It's right there in the title: Foster, pining over lost love, just wants the object of his affection in the song's bar scene to sit down with him. There's no promise of anything else, or anticipation that things will go a certain way; Foster simply follows his plea with "We can see where things go naturally."

In its simple titular ask and capturing of a calm, contemporary scene, "Sit Next to Me" almost feels like an "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for the 21st century. It doesn't say all that much, but it's darn catchy with what it does do. Thinking back to tonight's game, the Cal Band definitely captured that aspect of the song in their arrangement. Staying laidback can be tough in a marching band setting, but the Band kept the tempo slow and didn't go crazy with the other elements — they knew that staying faithful to the original track would capture the right energy.

I'm really proud of my friends in the Band for what they've accomplished in bringing so much great music to the Cal community, and I'm looking forward to hearing them at basketball games during the spring, when they can really let loose and have fun. Go Bears! Cal Band Great!


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