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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Foals: Birmingham Academy – Wednesday 3 November

Foals

This tour around, Foals have begun to look and sound like they’ve loosened up and begun to really love what they do.

During the Birmingham Academy gig, they even managed several success-tinged, albeit sheepish grins amidst their on-stage air of ‘business as usual’. Offerings from latest album, Total Life Forever sounded less frenetic, more beautiful than the old – perfectly illustrated by opener Blue Blood. And a clever juxtaposition with one of Antidotes’ more melodic tracks, Olympic Airways made chants of ‘Re-a-pe-ar’ bounce from wall to ceiling.

But it was the quintet’s bold mid-section slowdown that exposed the maturity they had developed in the new material, as well as a serious penchant – again, more clearly audible on the second album – for heart wrenching, soaring guitar riffs and lyrical sentimentality.

After Glow’s sensitive declarations of “I know I could not last for very long at all without you here to break my fall” was proof, and the achingly beautiful, shoegazy 2 Trees silenced the crowd with its Radiohead In Rainbows-esque experimental, mellow drums, soaring guitar riffs and a bassline that pleasantly jiggled the organs in and out of place.

There was also room for the oriental riffs of What Remains, before Spanish Sahara’s quivering high-octave vocals dropped a spellbound crowd off a sonic cliff to “I’m the ghost in the back of your head” as lead singer, Yannis Philippakis gave way to a surging mass of looping guitars, throbbing bass and drums.

Original classics like Cassius, Balloons and Red Socks Pugie even felt less tautly plucked and angsty. Not that their original packaging ever caused a yearn for change, but at the Academy the band shed layers of seriousness as these tracks became classic anthems for a dancing crowd.

Foals haven’t deserted the rather angular, edgy persona upon which they’ve based their sound. Fighting against indie-by-numbers, Yannis still chooses to direct operations from the left side of the stage and the band refuse to be packaged so neatly into any genre box. Upon announcing Miami, the band proclaimed the track’s beats were rooted in 90s hip hop; and there were numerous other inspirations imprinted across the gig ranging from braindance basslines evocative of Aphex Twin, math rock, electronica, and Afrobeats.

If ever anyone wanted confirmation that Foals are enjoying the ride, it was Yannis’ scaling of the speakers up to the balconies of the O2 during Electric Bloom and the tribal drum-laden finale, Two Steps, Twice.

Clearly, the band has transformed themselves from the rough diamond we heard on Antidotes. They are the creative jewel in the crown of a new breed of guitar-based indie bands that are throwing off the tired, formulaic three-guitarists-and-a-dummer shackle. It’s just that at the moment, no one does it better than Foals.

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