Foals are wrapping up touring their critically-acclaimed third album ‘Holy Fire’ and even though their sound nowadays has mellowed and in some instances has become calmer, their live shows are anything but that.
Ever since their early days as a band almost a decade ago, when they were playing at tiny but riotous house parties, Foals have consistently proved themselves to be a brilliant and entertaining band to see live. With each album they have released, however, their sound has moved away from spiky math-rock to tropical and beautiful soundscapes. They have somehow managed to keep their energy and momentum going in a live setting. Emerging one by one on stage at the magnificent Alexandra Palace through a dazzling green light, the energy was high before the opening notes of ‘Holy Fire’ opener ‘Prelude’ were plucked away by guitarist Jimmy Smith, greeted by the roar of thousands of fans.
However, Foals looked exhausted from the start. This was the last night of what looks like their last UK tour of ‘Holy Fire’ and it seemed like the touring was taking its toll – the band members were already sweating and looked rather weary. That didn’t stop them from playing a great set though, following ‘Prelude’ with ‘Total Life Forever’, the title track from their 2011 Mercury-nominated album, and then early single ‘Olympic Airways’. The focus of the set was mainly on ‘Holy Fire’ but it was good to see the band play some older songs. ‘Spanish Sahara’ was as sublime as you would expect it – gentle, lush and beautiful, until it built up to a stunning climax. The only downside to playing this song to a bunch of mainly drunk teenagers was that they seemed to love talking RATHER LOUDLY during the quieter segments. Frontman Yannis Philippakis and drummer Jack Bevan urged the audience to sit down for the first half of the song – some of us complied, including myself. Others, however, weren’t particularly keen, prompting a couple of girls behind me to continuously scream “SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN!”. It was too much for one disgruntled fan who screamed back “shut the fuck up!”. Of course, this was not Foals’ fault at all, but it did slightly ruin the atmosphere of perhaps one of their best and iconic songs.
Philippakis is well known for his onstage antics and there were a few of these tonight that were entertaining to watch, such as flailing his microphone stand around like a wild animal, clambering on to a speaker and jumping into the crowd with his guitar and wading his way through his adoring fans. To me though, something was missing. He wasn’t crazy enough. It seemed like these theatrics were more rehearsed now rather than on the spur of the moment, which made it seem a little too safe and conserved for me. Nevertheless, it was exciting enough to witness.
After Foals played ‘Inhaler ‘ – a song which led to moshpits forming and generating the biggest crowd reaction of the gig – I thought things couldn’t get much better after the encore. But they came back and played their first single ‘Hummer’, and it was electric. Tight guitars and ferocious intensity made this a perfect song to see live – something I’ve been waiting seven years for, and this happened to be the song that introduced me to them. After pushing nearly the 10 minute mark of their last song ‘Two Steps Twice’ and coming back from another crowd invasion, Philippakis looked genuinely thrilled about playing at Ally Pally and kept thanking us.
They may have been tired and some things performance-wise may have been staged, but the Oxford quintet know how to put on a memorable and lively show. Soon enough, it will be time for them to regroup and write a new bunch of songs, but I have faith that they will always remain as one of the best bands I have ever seen live.