Foals at First Direct Arena, Leeds, 20th February 2016. Words by Jen.
So the gradually snowballing juggernaut that is Foals’ ongoing career trajectory rolls on, into Leeds on Saturday February 20th for their final date on their first UK arena tour. Given that they’ve had a strong presence on the UK music scene since 2007, it seems strange that they’re finally embarking on an arena tour, however the powerful right hook that current album “What Went Down” provides sets an appropriate scene for a band who are very self-aware of their live capabilities, well-practiced and skilled at same, and yet want to present an intense experience to paying punters.
And Warner Brothers haven’t been tight with the cash either. The stage set is admirably impressive and yet gimmick-free. Strobe laser bars of all colours surround numerous square screens displaying both images of the band at work and superb, elaborate, high-resolution light shows. This is a long way from playing their local sweaty teenage indie armpit joint in Oxford when they had just emerged from being the Edmund Fitzgerald 10 years ago, fresh out of adolescence.
It’s very fair to say that Foals have now well & truly hit the mainstream, however it’s also through hard, honest work and musical integrity (as opposed to managerial harassment, OTT PR and attention deficit disorder of the band members). The Leeds date was an 8,000 ticket sell-out and admittedly, support act Everything Everything looked daunted and unable to meet the expectant atmosphere of intensity that the crowd had taken in with them.
Emerging to what sounded like a more violent version of the opening chords to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, they move straight into “Snake Oil”, a song that initially sounds like Kasabian’s “Reason Is Treason” but becomes more violent, powerful and sexual in its lyrical bent. Stage intros are very important to Foals, on the “Holy Fire” tours they introduced the band teasingly one by one, and the approach is similar on this tour but to a different track. Traditional crowd-pleaser “Olympic Airways” is then run through, which then leads via a drum build up from rhythm colossus Jack Bevan into the uber-funky “My Number”, then elegantly moving into new WWD album track “Birch Tree”, a delicious note of 80s hip hop inspired pop.
It’s pretty apparent via their set list that the band are very confident in their material, and in the mix of tracks both old and new that please the crowd and yet serve a good 2 hours of musical pleasure, sustained excitement, mellow moments and eventual climax. Each member of the band is very audibly musically talented.
My only argument is the absence and presence of a limited few tracks. I’m not sure why they run through “Red Socks Pugie anymore”, as it seems slightly overplayed, and “Milk & Black Spiders” would have been a suitably epic inclusion. Yannis’ vocals on the musically panoramic “A Knife in the Ocean” are clearly strained, and have been on numerous previous live outings. Also, “Albatross” is a very strong & powerful track from the current album that could leave an arena throbbing & hungry for more and its absence from their current live set is puzzling to say the least. But, time is money, and four albums into their career sacrifices need to be made, after all, they’re not a Bruce Springsteen type of act.
The mixture of different musical emotions in Foals’ canon truly is their USP. “Late Night” & “London Thunder” are mellow, emotional, melancholic and laconic. “Providence”, “Two Steps Twice” and “Inhaler” are hysterically orgasmic and “What Went Down” and “Snake Oil” are menacing and threatening tracks. Their early math-rock incarnation is also nodded to thanks to “Balloons” (the superb student disco classic “Hummer” has also been trotted out on this tour) and of course, the much-adored “Spanish Sahara” is the people-pleaser that sends the crowd into a frenzy.
All in all, their previously intense live show has translated effortlessly from smaller venues to arenas, where the sound and intensity is astronomical enough to fill the walls and people’s hearts and ears.
“Leeds, you’re fucking awesome,” announces Yannis Philippakis, returning warmly & enthusiastically for an encore. “Seriously, you guys are mint.” Well Yannis, it takes one to know one. Headlining Reading & Leeds suddenly seems insufficient for a band of their might. Why not Glastonbury?
Give It All
Mountain at My Gates
Red Socks Pugie
A Knife in the Ocean
What Went Down
Two Steps Twice
Jen recently told us about her love for Foals. You can read her article here.