What Went Down when Nick Harris saw Foals in Birmingham
Foals are a band famous for their live shows; from their legendary early gigs in living rooms to the intense intimacy of academy-sized venues. Would their promotion to a fifteen thousand capacity venue change this? Of course not.
Support came from two members of Peace drunkenly pressing play on an Ipod and possibly the most underrated band with the most criminally overlooked album of the year, Everything Everything. While the DJ set was nothing short of genre diarrhoea going from Nirvana to the Happy Mondays to Justin Timberlake, you would, however, be forgiven for leaving the gig at 11pm talking about Everything Everything. Arguably, the most interesting band in the country, Everything Everything provided a support performance worthy of a headline slot. Leaning heavily on 2015’s Get To Heaven, oddly, the album low point, Fortune 500, proved to be the high point of the set. It saw frontman Jonathan Higgs, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and guitarist Alex Robertshaw, fought a passionate duel of politically charged vocals. Closing number, Distant Past, really set the standard for which the headlining band of the night would gladly follow.
Opening with Snake Oil, anyone thinking Foals’ rise to arenas would lessen the intensity of their live shows was proved wrong when the first drum beat kicked in. Mosh pits emerged, almost instinctively, like Foals songs just emit aggression-stimulating pheromones. This was equally as sweaty, equally as intense and equally as impressive thanks to the production and the scale of the new album, What Went Down.
In spite of White Went Down’s success, seminal math pop debut Antidotes (2008) got it’s deserved fair share. Olympic Airwaves, Balloons and Red Socks Pugie proved very danceable numbers on the night. 2013’s Holy Fire offered notable highlights such as Providence, which found a gear above that of the album version, including two filthy false endings; Inhaler likely left lots of audience members short of breath requiring one; and frontman Yannis Philippakis gracefully glided around stage performing a guitar solo to Late Night like a ballroom dance. While Philippakis unquestionably steals the show, a man of few words and fewer inches in height, yet commanding such respect and adoration, an honourable mention must go to his bandmates. Jack Bevan (drums), Jimmy Smith (guitar), Walter Gervers (bass) and Edwin Congreave (keyboardist) all add intricate details to the delicate construction of the behemoth of a sound that is Foals.
The succulent Spanish Sahara blissfully permeated throughout the Barclaycard Arena. It provided a welcome break to the moshing madness that had not ceased since the band walked on stage an hour earlier. As the song built, the crowd, as is tradition, sunk to the sticky Birmingham floor, finding empty beer cups and stray shoes, lost on the arena battlefield. The local charity shop mustn’t have believed their luck the following morning, with the sheer number of pieces of clothing discarded, like a space shuttle ejecting its rocket boosters after take-off, for the sake of maximum audience performance and enjoyment.
Dedicated to deep-sea divers, secondary school teachers, anyone working in milkshake parlours and Yannis’s mum (for obvious reasons…), A Knife In The Ocean was a welcome inclusion from the latest album. In comparison to Spanish Sahara, both are decelerated, slow-building songs, allowing for a breather; both are also pieces of musical beauty in which it is easy to lose one’s self. Yet at the same time, both songs are almost the antithesis of one-another. Although Spanish Sahara is peaceful and pleasurable in its aims, A Knife In The Ocean with its harsh guitar chords in the chorus stunned the audience into a painful submission towards the end of the set.
What Went Down resumed chaos, as expected. Foals’ hardest rocking single, Inhaler on steroids, incited riot-like pandemonium. Whether it be me being corny or perhaps the fruity smell radiating from a nearby cigarette structure, as Yannis professed I saw not men (and women), but a crowd of lions, such was the feline ferocity of the audience, matching the song. They once said their music aimed to ‘mimic the sound of the solar system’, but for five minutes the crowd got an insight into what the end of the universe would look like, as What Went Down was the soundtrack to that apocalypse.
During closing number Two Steps Twice, Philippakis was unable to showcase his parkour skills, as he was denied the chance to jump into the crowd from a balcony, a staple of any Foals gig. Philippakis’s failed pursuit of a platform from which to leap took him to seated sections before conceding defeat, a disappointing although undoubtedly sensible, injury-preventing decision. This was perhaps the only thing lacking from an otherwise very impressive statement. An hour and forty minutes was enough to further assure me of their credentials, and simultaneously almost kill me.
Foals oozed the confidence and strut of a band recently receiving the Best Album accolade at the NME Awards; nominated for the Best British Band Brit Award; topping the bill at Reading and Leeds this summer, and promoted to the Premier League of British rock bands. Foals have grabbed the challenge of leading the much-needed new generation of British rock bands and seem to be galloping away with it.