Review by Charlie Tennant with Photography by Bianca Barrett

Foals take Birmingham by storm for two sold-out nights of pure magnificence.

Without a doubt, Digbeth Arena is one of Birmingham’s most creative and innovative music venues, boasting an impressive large open-air space bordered by railway arches and loading bays. Ready to take the packed space on a journey through jittery dance rock and spacey atmospheres, Foals jump onto the stage performing new material from the off, a bizarro rendition of an instant bop hit, ‘On The Luna’ graces the crowd this evening, fresh off the grill from their latest album, ‘Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’. The boys immediately lead into one of the their most popular hits, ‘Mountain at My Gates’. This pulsating duo of opening tracks raised hands and pints across the arena. And as if bringing luscious guitar licks and harmonies wasn’t already enough, Foals’ latest stage design incorporates captivating abstract video design in the background to really transport you to another place.

FOALS_9

Painlessly transitioning into ‘Snake Oil’ from the band’s 2015 album, it was clear that we were in for a treat tonight – bringing a touch of country rock to the live performance, the foursome were joined by Everything Everything’s Jeremy Pritchard on bass who filled the void that Foals’ original bassist, Walter Gervers, left when he announced his sad departure from the band last year after wishing to pursue another life. Despite the loss of a founding member, the act seem as tight as ever and do not stop at anything tonight.

‘Olympic Airways’, from the bands debut album, ‘Antidotes’, was up next. An instant crowd pleaser, with its stomping intro and catchy guitar hooks, Foals prove their original spirit is not lost – combined again with luscious visuals and vocals to mask Birmingham’s cloudy night sky that take the audience to an almost paradisal land. Fading into their 2013 hit, ‘My Number’, the night sky was lit up instantly with a flurry of phones in the air and the crowd bouncing to this tight rendition – extending the track with a dash of improv, combined with lead man, Yannis Philippakis’ gusty guitar shredding. It’s clear that the band are enjoying themselves tonight.

FOALS_14

FOALS_2

Moving into the act’s latest slow ballad, ‘Sunday’, this beautiful breakdown of a track turned the dancing, moshing crowd into a 3,500 wide ballroom with slow dancing and hands swaying everywhere – that was until half way through we return to full pace Foals were the slow dance faded into a heavy bop. Next up was catchy, yet progressive, ‘Syrups’. Another track from the band’s latest LP. A sonically different track, especially live. It marks an impressive change of direction for the band – enforced by the feel of the entire new album. All members of the band work hard to pull of this thickly layered masterpiece, and you can hear this – it sounds solid. The fusion of hypnotic visuals and the addition of the sprinkling of synth arpeggiation adds another layer of beauty.

Yannis takes a moment to thank the crowd for making this “a very spicy Sunday”, going on to suggest “spicy Sundays should be a thing, f**k Mondays!” Jumping right into a laser induced ‘Providence’ and proving that they mean business, Yannis jumps into the crowd and stands on the shoulders of those at the front, singing directly to the crowd during this song about being human, just like the rest of us. I can’t imagine how on top of the world he feels at this moment. Still on the shoulders of his tamed audience, the lead man shreds a powerful and excitable double-extended ending – the entire audience dances this night away. It was clear as the night drew in over Birmingham, Foals did not.

FOALS_17

FOALS_3

Only playing the opening note there was a mutual feeling of impending sadness with the next track. There was a momentary outburst of pre-empted sorrow when ‘Spanish Sahara’ graced the ears of the crowd tonight. The lyrics suggesting an imaginary nightmarish place dosed in trauma and fury sparked the tears of many fans – a moment I am sure both the audience and the band will cherish, a real musical connection. The beautiful guitar licks in this dreamy masterpiece combined with the mesmerising visuals set the base for a more rampant and bouncy ending, featuring a massive guitar solo that echoed its way through Digbeth.

Continuing this upward trajectory back to the punchy, jittery rock pieces they are known for, sees the latest installations of said hits, ‘Exits’ and ‘In Degrees’ were up next. With ‘Exits’ featuring bright, block colours mixed with synth laden hooks and ‘In Degrees’ boasting an almost club-like anthem feel that is ready to see the boys into some massive venues, extending the track with an impressive percussion bridge. These latest hits are yet more evidence (if we even needed it) that Foals are changing, and that isn’t a bad thing. They’re injecting new ‘spice’ into their already developed sound.

FOALS_6

FOALS_5

‘White Onions’ and ‘Inhaler’ prep us for the encore. It’s no wonder NME once declared Yannis Philippakis the 16th coolest person in the world, when, out of nowhere, the frontman walks straight into the crowd strumming the guitar as chilled as ever. This is a band that connects with its audience, and doesn’t just claim to.

Without little pause, Foals are straight back to it with their latest craft, ‘Black Bull’. A lyrically braggadocios and aggressive track, Yannis’s words make it clear he wants to examine toxic masculinity, once noting in an interview that he has a self-destructive tendency, and can be careless and impulsive, but feels he is in better control now. While technically this piece is unreleased and expected later this year, it was clear the band have some clear cut pieces ready to attack the world with. This little teasers leaves us ever-more excited to hear what’s in store for us in the future.

FOALS_8

FOALS_15

Closing with the riotous rendition of ‘Two Steps Twice’, the guys get the entire arena to get down on the ground ready for the rip-roaring drop, even at the end of the act, the fans are still connected and enjoying this – if only we could have had two or ten more hours of this.

I must add a special mention to the support acts for this gig. An incredible choice of bands that set the stage for Foals. Kiev up first, bringing their tight-knit web of indie, jazz, psychedelic funk and minimalist style to a live environment for the first time in years. In fact, I was shocked to see the band haven’t released any music in over 6 years – here’s hoping this smattering of live sets might spur the act to drop some new material. Yak up next with their alt-rock jams that have the crowd moving. An intriguing band with an even more intriguing back story – it’s worth noting that for lead man and driving force Oil Burslem, making Yak’s second album became about pursing his artistic vision at the expense of his own financial security and mental health. A story that breads a new perception on their music, and makes it feel all the more personal. This was a deep, meaningful and creative night full of new and exciting music while leaving Digbeth anxiously waiting for the future.

FOALS_11

FOALS_10

Setlist:

On the Luna
Mountain at My Gates
Snake Oil
Olympic Airways
My Number
Black Gold
Sunday
Syrups
Providence
Spanish Sahara
Red Socks Pugie
Exits
In Degrees
White Onions
Inhaler

Encore:

Black Bull
What Went Down
Two Steps, Twice

Leave a Reply