Foals, Dome, Brighton<br/>Clare Maguire, Xoyo, London

Foals show that kids with short attention spans can be transfixed by rambling yet clever songs
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On the night when a whole month's worth of rain falls on Sussex, it seems fitting to be watching a band whose music sounds like water.

There's a pellucid beauty to Foals nowadays. Where their first album, Antidotes, forcibly laid the grid of their math-rock instincts over the dancefloor imperative with sometimes clunky results, they've loosened and dissolved to liquid.

Bands of Foals' generation constitute a second wave to the punk-funk revivalists of the early 2000s, but also hark back to the indie dance craze of the late 1980s. Listening to their much-improved second album Total Life Forever, I think of art-baggy curios such as New Fast Automatic Daffodils, MBV or the Blue Aeroplanes.

There's a tendency, on stage, for the Oxford quintet to disappear into their own posteriors under their big, battered banner, give or take the odd moment when cuddly singer Yannis Philippakis, he of the permanently dolorous voice, whacks a purpose-placed floor-tom. For long periods he, guitarist Jimmy Smith, and bassist Walter Gerver turn inwards to face one another, buckle rhythmically at the knees like elasticated toy giraffes, and that's about as exciting as it gets.

The reaction of the crowd, however, is remarkably physical for such a cerebral band. "Cassius" sparks a full-on outbreak of crowd-surfing and moshing, with circular clearings made for exuberant slamming. It's unexpected and oddly pleasing that such a non-obvious band is able to connect with something approaching a mass audience, and that their often really-bloody-long songs can hold the attention of kids raised on blip culture.

"Spanish Sahara", with what we must now, in this smoke-free age, call a "phone-waving intro" ("I see you lying there/Like a lilo losing air ...", which I still can't decide is brilliant or awful), receives such a deafening singalong reception that it seems to spark the lethargic band into life.

Yannis leaps into the throng during "Electric Bloom", causing a stampede and a briefly perturbing crowd collapse. For his next trick, he disappears altogether, only to materialise on the balcony, wandering through the aisles with his guitar, until he scales a ledge, pauses for a second, then drops dramatically on to a speaker below. Orange tape on top of the cabinet suggests it's not spontaneous, but it's a neat stunt all the same. No question, Foals have matured into a lovely horse. They're a pony no more.

The first I heard of Clare Maguire, she was already a done deal. Chatting to music biz PRs about who's likely to pick up the Critic's Choice at the Brits they replied, "Clare Maguire's nailed on, surely?" The urge to reply "Who?" was immense. Clearly I'd missed the memos, but something had blatantly been decided.

Something's fishy here. Something doesn't fit. She was discovered, we're told, after posting her demos on MySpace – a backstory no one believes any more. There's a missing link in the chain we're not being told about.

Even though her debut album's not out until February, she's already fiendishly well connected. She's hung out with Rick Rubin and Jay-Z, toured with Plan B, and Jarvis Cocker's even written her a song. So why has Maguire been fast-tracked? What's this "iconic new singer", as she's oxymoronically described on the press release, actually got?

The first and most obvious thing is a truly fearsome voice. A deep, booming, belting, floor-shaking instrument, it seems to channel the power of some Cherokee high priestess. There's something incongruous about hearing such terrifying tones emanating from such a petite frame. Then again, at other times she just sounds like a nouveau Lennox.

Her eight-song set is a little MOR, reminiscent of Alison Moyet's post-Yazoo material. Her debut hit "Ain't Nobody" is not the Chaka Khan classic, but there is one cover tonight. Fittingly, for someone who is compared to Stevie Nicks, it's a Fleetwood Mac number. The fact that Maguire opts for "Big Love", a Lindsey Buckingham vocal, is a surprise. A tiny one, I admit, but in these sewn-up, foregone-conclusion times, we have to be grateful for what we get.

Next Week:

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