I remember a comedy skit in which a nurse gently broke the news to a group of middle aged men that they would never be astronauts. They all burst into tears in unison with the realization that age slowly closes down all the possibilities you never even dreamed or yearned for— but you can still feel the loss. I can empathise with this. At every age of my life I have been overly aware of the things I never be. At ten, a child prodigy. At fifteen, an Olympic gymnast. At twenty, a teenage mother (okay, less sad about not achieving that one). But the message is really hammered home when your peers achieve something, which is why Foals, as friends of a friend, made me realize that I’m now too old to ever be in a world-famous band. Sigh.
There is always vicarious pleasure, of course, and Foals provide that in spades. As the first few plucked notes of “Blue Blood” ring out I realize how far they’ve come (a Tokyo stadium, to be exact) from the intimate house parties they used to play in their native Oxford. Their music has matured, too— from their first spiky and riotous album Antidotes, to Total Life Forever, which garnered both mainstream appeal and a wave of critical acclaim.
Despite the differences in the two albums, it’s surprising tonight how well their whole body of songs blend together. From the first gently plucked notes of opener “Blue Blood”, they clatter directly into a string of their early hits, from the funky “Olympic Airways” to the frantic “Cassius”, complete with squalling horns and yelping. A brief moment’s respite comes in the anthemic title track, “Total Life Forever”, where the drums provide a strong ballast, before the crowd take over the beat with clapping.The best sets are always those that exhaust the audience, whipping them up with a relentless… Click To Tweet
Frontmen usually receive disproportionate attention to the rest of the band, but Yannis really does seem to be the leader here, holding his hands aloft and pumping his fist like an evangelical preacher and bounding around the stage like a freshly released cage fighter. His strength is his ability to switch from a gentle Jekyll to a vitriol-spitting Hyde in the space of a song, as when he nearly breaks a drum stick thwacking the big snare brought out for him in “Electric Bloom” (that must be where those roadie-like muscles came from) to the spine-tingling whispers on “Spanish Sahara”. When he climbs on top of one of the speakers and starts swinging objects hanging from the ceiling, the bouncers look a bit desperate and lost— and he continues to make them look edgy throughout the set, throwing water over the crowd (not so welcome when it’s snowing outside) and then crowd-surfing twice.
The other members are slightly more subdued, although in the case of the drummer and keyboardist, their kit is to blame for their lack of mobility. Lead guitarist Jimmy Smith, a quintessential indie kid with straggly long hair, pin-thin legs and a slightly Jesus-like look, somehow manages to dance while nailing the highly complex and finicky, fast riffs that they have become known for. The five of them together seem to be so intuitively in touch with what the others are doing and where they are going that their performance is fast, flawless, and lethally precise.
Yet their precision is equally matched by an infectious groove that simply doesn’t allow the crowd to stay still. The second album allowed them to explore their softer side, but even the gentle, honey-like vocals of Alabaster break into a thickly layered cacophony pinned together with drums that sound like rain on a roof. In contrast to the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic that so many bands still stick to, Foals have found their ideal formula in quiet/louder/even louder/deafening.
The best sets are always those that exhaust the audience, whipping them up with a relentless sprint, never letting the tension drop. You can see where the fans’ fervour comes from— and when Yannis jumps off the stage into the press pit there are so many fans’ hands on him it’s like a faith healing convention. After a shouty “Electric Bloom” in which the crowd explodes, they come back for an inevitable encore for a whole three songs, leaving the crowd sweaty and with smiles so wide they split their face in two. They may be named after baby horses but it feels like they’re already racing at Ascot.