Foals at Barclaycard Arena 19.02.2016

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.


Blossoms at Zephyr Lounge with Viola Beach 11.02.2016

Blossoms have quickly established themselves as the new heroes of the Mancunian rock scene, having been passed the highly decorated, highly respected (and admittedly highly drug-laced) mantle previously held by the likes of Oasis and The Stone Roses. This notion is riddled with inaccuracies though, as Blossoms are proudly neither Mancunian nor a rock band. With Joe Donovan sporting an ‘I ❤ Stockport’ t shirt, it is a vital detail that they originate 6 miles from Manchester. It would also be foolish to liken them to these artists, asides from their regionality. They acknowledge the pressure to follow in the footsteps of the bands who inspired them and the Britpop and Baggy movements but are not willing to imitate them. Blossoms have managed to put their own spin on things, but with these ‘elements of euphoria maintained’. To their credit, you’d have to be musically inept or hard of hearing to compare Blossoms to Oasis or The Stone Roses sonically.

Tom Ogden, lead vocalist and guitarist, openly declares the band to be a pop band – the second mistake being calling Blossoms a rock band. They proudly squash the cockroach-like stigma that is outing yourself as a pop band. Others should take note: Mr Healy of The 1975 and Daniel Smith of Bastille, own up. This possibly explains the band’s choice of music as I entered their dressing room backstage at Zephyr Lounge in Leamington Spa. It’s not The Smiths or The Courteeners preparing the band for the gig, it’s Beyonce featuring Jay Z’s Drunk In Love, and there’s no effort to hide this. They’re not pretentious in their musical influences with inspirations ranging from the Grand Theft Auto Vice City soundtrack to ABBA. Lead guitarist Josh Dewhurst takes the opportunity to prove his true status as a true ABBA fan by announcing the traditional Swedish folk background of ABBA’s Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as if it were common knowledge. Although, when recalling his favourite ABBA songs, he could only manage to recollect ‘the one about money or someone’s mama’. Bassist Charlie Salt outdoes Dewhurst, crediting Kevin and Perry and it’s dance, techno and trance sound for his ‘hypnotic basslines’. This interesting and slightly obscure music taste is surprisingly reflective in their very current but simultaneously retro sound.

While the band are delighted with the sold out Zephyr Lounge gig and do an impressive job rocking it, it’s obvious that the sell-out, 2,000 capacity gig at Manchester Albert Hall later in the month cannot come soon enough. A homecoming gig of that magnitude is a salivating prospect for a band yet to release an album. The band recently supported The Libertines at the Manchester Arena and they reveal they ‘felt most comfortable’ on the 20,000 capacity stage, and rubbing noses with Pete Doherty. Blossoms clearly have their sights set on bigger things and more specifically, bigger stages. This quiet confidence is refreshing and gives them a competitive edge over annoyingly modest others. Ogden exemplifies this, stating that they ‘feel like they deserve it and the songs are good enough’, which is evident in their live performance brimming with swagger and self-assurance. They have been recognised by placing fourth in the BBC Sound of 2016, after all.

The unassuming Blossoms member Myles Kellock sits in the corner behind a curtain of blond hair plugged into an Apple Mac as if recharging himself. His only contribution to the interview is when talking about a lost laptop in a taxi in Manchester after their Libertines support slot: ‘completely f*cking gone’ accompanied by a cutthroat gesture. Despite being a man of few words, it is, in fact, the mute keyboard player that makes the band’s sound truly outstanding. His significant contribution of 80s synth and hints of psychedelia add to the already exceptional combination of the impressively mature vocals and towering Joey Ramone-like presence of frontman Ogden, Dewhursts’s powerful guitar solos, the ‘hypnotic basslines’ of Salt, all held together by Donovan barely breaking a sweat on drums. This fusion of dance, synth, rock and indie proves they really are more than a pop band, and shows why Blossoms won’t fade into the endless abyss of British indie-pop bands.

Blossoms’ big hit and the highlight of the night is undoubtedly Charlemagne. An instant indie classic, it encapsulates all the individual talents of the band into three perfect minutes. The name was introduced to Ogden by his historian brother: Charlamagne AKA Charles the Great, King of the Franks who united much of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. The elaborate but fitting title serves as a metaphor for placing someone on a pedestal, and the song is cited as a ‘turning point for their sound’ which has been recognised by the band with the new album reflecting that. Other notable mentions are Blown Rose which has obvious Smiths and Suede influences, At Most A Kiss, which demonstrates Kellock’s importance in producing head-nodding, toe-tapping beats, and set-closer Blow, just another example of their contagious melodies.

Blossoms have a big summer ahead of them, consisting of unrelenting festival touring as far as Japan. More importantly, the release of their highly anticipated debut album, date currently unconfirmed but projected by Ogden to be sometime in the summer. As teasingly far away as this seems the band were clearly feeling very positive about it, promising that it sounded ‘really good’ and even ‘exceeded their expectations’. Ogden proclaims that it is ‘best thing they could produce’ and recognises The Coral’s James Skelly, who produced it, for bringing the best out of the band. Donovan summarises the band’s feeling towards their forthcoming album perfectly, like ‘the feeling of doing your homework the night before’. For someone who knows this feeling all too well, they evidently have reason to be quietly confident.

On my exit, Drunk In Love is resumed, and the band returned to frivolities before effortlessly owning the Zephyr Lounge stage. It is unquestionable that this was a unique opportunity to catch a band destined for greatness in such intimate surroundings. Expect to see Blossoms playing much larger venues in the near future, which is why I will be catching them again at Kasbah on March 4th.

About half way through the interview, the room starts rocking as the sound of the opening band reverberates around the dressing room. I manage to catch the second half of this exciting set by an upcoming indie-pop band called Viola Beach. They play tightly and energetically, reflecting the enthusiasm of a group fresh to the world of touring; the desire of a band hungry to make it big and the confidence to do so. This is most evident during their final song, Swings and Waterslides, as Frontman Kris Leonard tosses the microphone stand onto the floor of the crowd and falling to his back shredding his guitar from the ground. It’s the sight of aspiring rock stars living their dreams.

On Sunday 14th February news emerged of a fatal car crash in Sweden involving Viola Beach members Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin and their manager Craig Tarry. The horrific details of this incident are not worth focusing on. What is worth acknowledging is the reaction of the music world, rallying to support and honour this band. The aforementioned Swings and Waterslides has shot from 60,000 Youtube views to well over a million. It has also reached number two in the iTunes chart (at the time of writing, three days after the news of their deaths), following a campaign to get the song to number one. The campaign’s success isn’t out of sympathy, however, it is the genuine appreciation of a talented band on the cusp of big things. What a tragic way for millions of new fans to discover and adore a young, promising band called Viola Beach.