I’m perhaps a bit of a Foals apologist. They could probably make an album of just a car alarm sound for 50 minutes and I would most likely find something positive to say about it (fortunately, this has yet to happen). I’ve nothing short of loved everything they’ve produced thus far. I tried to keep this bias out of my mind on my fourth time seeing them.
When I’ve seen Foals in the past, it’s always been in a much smaller venue than First Direct Arena. An arena feels like a massive upgrade from November 2015, when I saw them play Liverpool Olympia – a ballroom – and I was interested to see how things would be different. Just before they come on, the stage becomes pitch black and one by one, Yannis, Jack, Jimmy, Walter and Edwin walk onto the stage as the lights come back on. They launch straight into ‘Snake Oil’ from What Went Down, their newest release, followed by ‘Olympic Airways’ from their oldest album Antidotes.
The rest of their set comprised a variety of songs from all of their albums, with those from What Went Down and Antidotes featuring most prominently. I was a little disappointed at the omission of ‘Blue Blood’ from their set, as this left ‘Spanish Sahara’ as the only song from their sophomore album Total Life Forever. It’s not really something to complain about, though – ‘Spanish Sahara’ live is always an atmospheric, beautiful experience. Tracks such as ‘My Number’, ‘Balloons’ – both highlights of the set – ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Red Socks Pugie’ incite mania throughout the crowd, whereas slower songs like ‘Birch Tree’ and ‘Give It All’ unite the audience in tranquillity. It’s almost a show of polar opposites.
It’s clear that Foals are completely comfortable with the transition to such a large venue compared to those previous ones, playing the set with the same confidence they always have. The set up is magnificent, with imagery of oceans and mountains projected onto the stage combined with geometric strobes and lights. It feels almost ethereal at parts.
Their encore lasts for three songs – ‘London Thunder’ is a chilled affair that is then juxtaposed with the frantic, angry, ‘What Went Down’, the latter of which was arguably one of the best songs of the night. The final song is their traditional set-closing track ‘Two Steps, Twice’. Live, it’s always an experience – in the past, I’ve witnessed Yannis’ guitar stolen by an audience member during it – and I’ll be disappointed if they ever change their minds about ending gigs with it. The song lends itself to the crowd chanting its tune, and the way the song builds up for three minutes to the chorus means the excitement builds up equally. ‘Two Steps, Twice’ is a fitting end to a triumphant closing show of a strong UK tour.
I said earlier that I’m probably biased towards Foals. Perhaps I am, but I can genuinely say that I’ve never seen another artist deliver a set full of such energy and ebullience as they do, whilst still retaining the quality of sound that features on the albums. This band can only continue to get bigger and bigger.
Words and photo by Lucy McLaughlinBy Lucy McLaughlin