In 2008, Foals seemed hell-bent on distancing themselves from the things that made people fall in love with them in the first place. They sneered at their ‘buzz-band’ label; left their best early singles – two slices of disco-punk brilliance in 'Hummer’ and ‘Mathletics’ – off their debut album, ‘Antidotes’; and earned themselves a rep for being a bit difficult, too damn clever for their own good.
But none of that alienated those who saw them as the soundtrack to a night down the indie disco – many of whom are still turning up to see the band, tonight in their droves. This show (the first of two at Ally Pally) sold out in just 10 minutes, and as the band appears for those introductory, tingly guitar ripples of ‘Prelude’, girls in the crowd scream and clutch each other while men roar adoringly. Somewhere along the line between the twitchy math-rock angles of ‘Antidotes’ and last year’s expansive, soaring ‘Holy Fire’ (review), and despite their apparent disdain for fame, Foals have connected with the masses.
Tonight is a celebration of that journey. We’ve lived with ‘Holy Fire’ for just over a year and now it’s clear just how much it’s transformed what Foals can do in a live setting. The volume of the crowd during anti-Valentine’s anthem ‘My Number’ almost completely drowns out frontman Yannis Philippakis, who admitted during the album’s promotion he’d wanted to write direct lyrics “rather than writing a load of images that no one’s going to have a f*cking clue about”. Whereas the band-fan relationship always felt slightly clinical before, Foals finally feel like a band people can relate to.
Tonight they wield the beef and muscle of ‘Holy Fire’ like a formidable weapon. Sure, the glitchy polyrhythms of ‘Hummer’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ are as playful as ever, but they now feel lightweight, not to mention lacking in emotional clout when juxtaposed against the malignant ‘Spanish Sahara’ or ‘Late Night’’s intense ambience. In comparison, ‘Milk & Black Spiders’ crackles as it purposefully unfurls, while ‘Providence’ blossoms at a frenetic pace, Jack Bevan’s drums thundering, guitars intricate and crunchy, peaking and dipping in a flurry of taut fretwork while red lasers rain down on the ecstatic crowd.
But it’s the first shimmering bars of ‘Inhaler’ that have become the international signal for Foals fans to collectively lose their shit. “Are you ready at the front? Are you ready at the back?” screams Yannis, pre-empting the chaos before the colossal, thrilling chorus explodes amid a sea of punched fists, head-banging and flailing heads, thousands of voices echoing his shrieks of “I can’t get enough SPACE!”
Three years ago it would have been unthinkable that something this heavy and immediate would ever become their calling card, but it’s this unpredictability that’s propelled Foals to new heights. Later there’ll be time for precocious spontaneity but tonight it seems, at last, the band is comfortable enjoying their moment as the most popular kids in town.
- - -
Words: Dannii Leivers