The last time I saw Foals was in 2008, at the Ambassador Theatre in Dublin at the tail-end of the promotional tour for the band’s debut Antidotes. I know I probably shouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how things have accelerated even then and in the eight years since. It’s funny to think that the release of that album was mired in inter-fan squabbling over the decision to leave their humongous debut single ‘Hummer’ off the album. Every article about the band was for some reason obligated to mention their history of playing house parties or their appearance on Skins. The word “angular” was well on its way to becoming a pejorative in indie-rock circles. People were still embarrassed to admit they liked The Horrors.
Most of all, I thought about the fact that the vast majority of the crowd then wouldn’t have been able to avail of the bar even if it was open. The review of the gig on this very site supposed it was a first concert for many there. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it was a marked change to last week at the Marquee, waiting for the doors to open and seeing a roughly equal amount of teenagers, 30 year olds, and even some grey-haired enthusiasts all excitedly discussing what songs they hope Foals are going to play. If I were a cynic or a character from High Fidelity I’d probably grumble about this, but instead I’m delighted that Foals have managed to create a wide-ranging fanbase without sacrificing their character, descending into cliché or denying their artistic impulses. Over the past five years alone they’ve gone from the art-house to one of the biggest rock bands going, helped in no small part to their reputation for ferocious live shows.
The kick off is relatively subdued, you’d barely notice the pre-show music tapering off and All Tvvins begin their set within seconds of the lights going down – you’d be mistaken for assuming they were technicians giving the instruments one last check. While the absence of Adebisi Shank and The Cast of Cheers from the Irish music world remains a void, the combination of Lar Kaye and Conor Adams show themselves to be a very exciting new prospect altogether. Where Cheers aimed for expansion through repetition, Tvvins make their choruses soar. Where Adebisi mangled its ludicrously inventive guitar playing into punch and impact, Kaye injects a pop sensibility into his playing that hopes to be hummable even when he’s picking all over the fretboard like he’s searching for gold. The musicality is as accomplished and effervescent as you’d expect a project by the duo to be – I’ve been playing drums for nearly a decade and I don’t know how I could do some of the things the drummer does without whacking myself in the face. The band end their set with the announcement that their album is coming out in August, and you can tell they’ve already got themselves new converts.
What Went Down has its more sedate moments. Approximately zero of them appear over the course of the main set. Foals have always had a bite to their performances, but at the Marquee it’s clear that they have become a capital-R rock band, all snarly and crunchy riffs, woo-ed choruses, hands held aloft, Yannis Philippakis asking if we’re “FUCKING READY”. There’s a guitar solo during ‘Late Night’, a mosh-pit during ‘Inhaler’, and even keyboardist Edwin Congreave, while not exactly Rick Wakeman-like in showmanship, could be seen doing something close to headbanging a few times.
You can tell the band are enjoying themselves, apologising for not playing Cork before, each member of the group visibly losing themselves once songs reached the tension and release stage. It’s never explicitly stated, but considering the band were supporters of Britain remaining in the EU, one couldn’t help but wonder if they are seeking solace in their art during a very uncertain and anxious time in their home country.
Which is not to suggest that they are otherwise unprofessional – songs take on a new life in the context of a stage. ‘Providence’, a tune that appeared goofy on record, becomes an absolute monster live, turning into a pure behemoth of grit and id. ‘A Knife In The Ocean’, the last album’s highlight, shows off how in-step the rhythm section of Jack Bevan and Walter Gervers are. The rhythm of the song is a complicated one – triplets against a half-time backbeat, popularly known as the Purdie Shuffle due to its development by the great Bernard Purdie. Usually associated with funk acts or the occasional appearance in blues-rock bands, it’s a sign of Foals’ wide-ranging influence that it’s incorporated into one of their songs.
There are crowd-pleasers – hearing the man behind me try to force his Dublin accent into a British one to sing along to ‘Spanish Sahara’ should be annoying, but instead is quite endearing and adds to the power of that perhaps career-defining song. The appearance of ‘Cassius’ at this point feels akin to Radiohead belting out ‘Creep’. It feels ever so slightly incongruous to who Foals as a band are now (they say they’ve only played it three times over the last six years), but it’s a fun revisit, and a strong signal that they are a band with an enviable discography, a strong narrative making its way and developing with every release.
By the time the now customary freakout of ‘Two Steps Twice’ closes things out, I can hear the older members of the crowd expressing how surprised they are that the band become a different beast on stage. Longtime fans are comparing it favourably to times they’ve seen the band in the past. Younger fans are delighted in the emotion they have been feeling seeing their favourite songs played for the first time. It’s not the biggest show Foals will play this year – it’s not even the biggest show they’ve played in Ireland – but it is for sure a highlight of this year’s Marquee offerings, and I can only hope they make good on their promise to return to Cork again.
Foals photographed by Miki Barlock.