Tuesday 5th January 2016
Among other accolades, Foals won Best Live Act at the 2013 Q Awards, and to date are acknowledged as one of U.K’s top live acts. English indie rock quintet, Foals, have maintained a constant line up since their 2005 formation, which consists of:
Yannis Philippakis – Lead vocals/guitarist
Jack Bevan – Drummer/percussionist
Jimmy Smith – Rhythm guitarist
Walter Gervers – Bassist
Edwin Congreave – Keyboardist
Their hugely anticipated fourth studio album, What Went Down, was released in 2015 to high acclaim. It was therefore perfectly apt, of course, for the band to open the night with a cut straight from this release, Snake Oil. Gervers’ dense bass pumped with prominence. It closely accompanied the frantically paced hard rock, and supported Philippakis’ glorious, gravelly, growling vocals, just right. Much like the band, there was no time to warm up for the audience, as they were instantly engulfed by proper rock undertones. This powerful vibe pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Three guitars on stage at all times cannot ever be wrong. Try to never forget that. Philippakis handled his wireless with such continuity, never once dropping a key. The accompaniment and arrangement line of Smith’s rhythm guitar over the melodies was divine. Gervers’ backbone bass created the protective robust structure that drove those holy beats further. Bevan’s percussionist skills were on point, as were Congreave’s at the keys.
When Philippakis repeatedly revealed, passionately might I add, just how much affection Foals have for their loyal Australian following, it translated as completely heartfelt. Made me feel all warm and fuzzy, so I shouted a humongous ‘thank you’ right back at him. I’m fairly confident he nodded in recognition.
At the first hint of the familiar notes to track two off the new album, Mountain at my Gates, the band had already notched up the amp to nine hundred and ninety nine point nine. Just the way I like it. Foals knew they had the near five thousand fans in the palm of their hand, as they loudly echoed the lyrics right back toward the stage in unison. The audience as a whole was clearly blissed out by the contagious melody and hook, which renders the song so recognizable.
Although I would’ve liked to have seen both Gervers and Congreave really join the larger party and interact a little more, (although they earn points for redeemable sleek rock band member smiles throughout), each of the band did play a role big or small when securing a certain rapport with the audience. Whether it was when Smith sang along to the lyrics as he faced the fans, whilst still commanding his guitar with a vengeance… or when Bevan dropped his sticks to make his way to the front of the stage, where he encouraged the audience to clap during an interlude. The distraction allowed pause for Mr Philippakis to adjust himself properly in a (safe?) crowd surfing position. The energy in the room subsequently reached a high point, flashing cameras every which way fought for the best possible money shot. I was just more interested in ditching my Gene Simmons-esque boots for the vertically challenged and boosting myself right up there as well. Looked like a lot of fun.
Suffice to say, Philippakis’ physical endurance throughout the whole night pointed to the discipline necessary for touring at this measure. It helps that he happens to be a natural showman, and one you’ll never find not gesturing during vocals, connecting with his audience all the way. As a magnetic focal point of this dynamic band, he’s truly pivotal in injecting the right amount of intensity that comes to define a Foals show on a whole.
Fans celebrated a showcase of real gems and varied styles from as far back as first album Antidotes to today’s What Went Down and everything in between. In counter balancing the weight of their sophisticated and thought provoking lyrical content, Foals are also well known for their unique blend of rock and dance charged compositions.
This distinguishable feature reared its playful head at the very first hint of the intro to My Number, an infectious punchy driven track off their third studio album Holy Fire. A subtle foray into the dance-rock and new wave funk arena, that’s long been distinctive to Foals. A true example of authentic quality pop at its best, that had the euphoric crowd bouncing about almost as much as Philippakis himself. I listened to everyone energetically chanting the lyrics in their entirety, including the essential high pitched ‘’woo-oo-ooo“ background coos interspersed throughout this mega-cool and catchy song. This made me feel all warm and fuzzy too.
Foals are observed as the ‘thinking man’s substitute’. To that end, following tradition, the current album seems to embrace glaringly vivid and sensational, sometimes shocking, imagery. Throughout the concert, I found myself embodying that thinking person, savouring every moment as I navigated myself through the layers of music and continued attempting to analyse Foals’ intended connotation. Because of this element of depth, the night for me became more than just a remarkable live performance by an extremely gifted ensemble. It felt a sublime journey.
Fans got to revisit another noteworthy moment off third album Holy Fire. The touching track, Late Night, typifies the overall mystifying nature of themes raised by Foals, which usually express a certain relationship-based melancholia. We therefore braced ourselves for a most earnest confessional. The suddenness of the hushed tone and stripped back slower tempo of this lavish ballad was rather bewitching. As the lighting softened and focused directly on Philippakis standing alone at the microphone, one could not deny nor ignore his vulnerability. His strong, at times throaty, and haunting vocals were somehow offset by those more tender and tenuous as well. A solo Smith at the keyboard superbly complemented the delicate nature of the mood. We appreciated a whole other dimension of performance as a result of this organic display. The song did slowly but steadily intensify, when Philippakis urged, achingly gentle, though impassioned:
“stay with me, stay with me…”
It would’ve proven near impossible for any of us in that space to have not stayed right there with him.
We proceeded to party hard along with Foals and I especially relished the played out ‘savage and special’, (to paraphrase Philippakis himself), guitar riffs after most songs. The guys on stage were honestly having a blast, guitars on fire, and so many down right funky moves all over, it felt like a nightclub reserved for rock gods. Now there’s an idea...
At the encore interval of the evening it proved perfect poetic justice that Foals, upon resuming their position at centre stage to mad applause, began properly belting out with just force, the first chords to the massive title track of their latest album What Went Down.
This big, bold tune meant business straight up and was immediately impactful. The song itself retains a perilous presence to it, always a real rush, with no exception on the night. The paced anticlimactic climb to the breathless explosion of guitars set the mode. This combined with Philippakis channeling his inner animal, and expelling it by wildly transporting his voice to a place unprecedented for Foals, was electrifying. Witnessing these instrumental odysseys live was unearthly.
I continued to watch on, intoxicated, as Foals went their hardest. A chorus of desperate clapping behind me as I looked back mesmerized, what a commentary I thought to myself; A befitting tribute to a band most worthy. If ever the opportunity presents itself, do support Foals live. You’ll not soon forget the ride. I won’t.
And to all members of the security and medical personnel Team who worked the evening, I had my eye on you. I felt for you. I salute you. Yannis Philippakis is one extremely hyper chap who is evidently not a fan of keeping still. If there’s anything whatsoever to jump from OR onto (including members of the audience) he’ll give it a go, no fear. Try and stop him… So good job you guys.
Having left Moore Park still buzzing in the front seat of the car, My Number screaming the paint work off the door panels, as I literally shrilled the chorus to my heart’s content, straight out the open window. How chuffed was I when at a turn, a random unassuming passer-by outside Centennial Park returned just as piercingly, and in true Foals spirit, with “ WOO-OO-OOO!!!!!!”
Good Lord, live music in Sydney. You can’t beat it. Now my Foals night was complete.
Mary Di Matteo
see more photos here