So “What Went Down”?
Foals, that’s what.
Four albums into their ever-upwardly trajectory and with their biggest headlining show in Ireland to date, Oxford’s finest (well apart rom Radiohead, Ride et all), Foals, blow into town tonight riding on the coat tails of Imogen’s bluster and get set to storm the 3arena. Not a bad prospect for an Ash Wednesday.
Tonight finds the band in transition as they teeter on the verge of the big leagues. Can they make the leap from packing out medium sized venues to reaching the masses in bigger arenas? This Citizen State is fortunate enough to have caught them twice previously, both times in the Olympia and has witnessed up close and personal what a riveting and essential outfit these lads can be. Both times I came away believing that they were a band you could believe in and one worth suffering the indigent hustle and bustle, the spit and feathers of the pit for.
But how would Yannis’ balcony climbing antics and the immediacy and urgency of their more intimate performances play out in the larger, more impersonal 3arena?
They hit the ground running and smack us with the krautatonic pulsating intro of ‘Snake Oil’. Large, loud, earthy and ballsy. Jesus, I’d forgotten how heavy they can bring it. Iron behind the velvet as they say. If this is what life in the big leagues sounds like than bring it on. ‘Olympic Airways’ follows as the band and production team flex their muscle further as the lighting rig comes to life. Someone’s been spending money on the bells and whistles and they’re determined to have a play with them.
Seven songs in and by the time we’ve reached ‘Mountain at my Gate’, the initial rush of blood has subsided and the brooding anthemic songs begin to blend into one – ‘Birch Tree’ and ‘Give It All’ prove forgettable, and I fear that we may be headed into dreaded C word territory (Coldplay – there you made me say it!). They finish the set with ‘Inhaler’ and to be honest, I’m glad of the respite. There’s only so much swelling atmosphere and ambiance that a body can take and the music is in danger of getting swallowed up by the spectacle of lights, lasers and big screens required to bridge the void between the performer and audience.
But we know that there’s plenty of more welly in the tank, lads, so quit faffing about and get on with it.
And true to form, Yannis’s yawp of “I buried my heart in a in hole in the ground” signals the ferocious assault of ‘What Went Down’ as the band, having returned to the stage with the drab ‘London Thunder’, rip the bejesus out of their last album’s titular track. The maelstrom of guitars swells as the quintet creates a tsunami that increases in intensity until it reaches critical mass and breaks, gloriously, crashing over us. When they hit it hard it stays hit and on this type of form they’re still one of the most electrifying and exhilarating outfits in the business. More of this please!
They leave us with the spiky, syncopated, jerkiness of ‘Two Steps Twice’ and thereby bookend their performance with tracks from both their debut and latest releases. The math-rock, afro-beat, monster of a track leaves both the audience and the band suitably spent by the time the crowd surfing madness has climaxed and throaty roars abated. Like victorious gladiators, Yannis and his cohorts exit the arena, stage left as the sweat soaked proletariat gather themselves and their senses before shuffling off outdoors to continue their Lenten penitence.
It hasn’t been a perfect night. The lull of energy in the middle third isn’t fully shook off until the encore but when they’re on point they’re as sharp as the best of them and worthy of the prize that surely awaits them. With top of the bill spots already bagged for Reading and Leeds this year there’s no doubt that a long endless festival season of playing to the masses in the large open spaces of a thousand cooling summer’s eves await them and deservedly so.
Foals photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko.