Less than a week before the release of their third album, Holy Fire, Foals are playing an intimate gig for hardcore fans in support of NME’s month of awards shows.
The crowd is pumped to hear the Oxford band’s latest work. But they don’t get to. Not yet. First they get a laser display, from Marshmallow Laser Feast, which is pretty. But it’s not the band.
An hour later than billed, Foals finally step on stage. The fans don’t seem to mind the waiting, though. In fact they seem all the more revved up for having to endure the crushing discomfort of the 400-capacity venue, pressed nose-to-armpit like complacent commuters for an extra hour. They might be masochists.
The set is full of variety and drives steadily towards a high energy finish. It rises from fluid, mellow tunes, heavy on complicated, occasionally (deliberately) dissonant chords, to the up-tempo pop found in their more recent work. The heavy guitar music and irresistibly catchy rhythm of “Providence” and the relentless pace of “Electric Bloom”, where frontman Yannis Philippakis shrieks “just another hospital” to clanging chords and aggressive drums makes for a galloping, rapturous conclusion.
“My Number”, the group’s new single, is more mainstream and simpler than their previous work, but it doesn’t alienate the hardcore fanbase either. Philippakis sings the lyrics in scratchy, growling tones. “I don’t need your counsel / I don’t need these city’s streets/ I don’t need that good advice / cause we can move beyond it now”.
The music is almost faultless, but the band is like a black hole of charisma. They seem to have learnt their moves from lots of book-learning; perhaps “The A-Z of posturing”, or “From geek to chic in Five Easy Steps”. Philippakis is the main culprit. His T-shirt reads “Etudiants”, but he looks more like David Brent, middle-aged, uncomfortable in his own skin, awkwardly trying to look cool and failing with every limp gesture and awkward, disdainful flick of his water bottle.
At one point he flounces onto the crowd, writhing like a frantic hippo, while the fans stagger beneath his weight. But they love it. Besides, Foals’ Royal Albert Hall gigs in March are already sold out and they’ve produced a beautiful album with broad appeal. Who needs stage presence when you can do pop-by-numbers?