In America, pissed means angry. In England, pissed means drunk. Yannis Philippakis, front man of Oxford’s dance-rock band Foals, was both, a potentially dangerous combination that worked to his benefit. Sticking firm to the set list, Foals either gave their despondent audience the middle finger or fed off it its rude anxiousness for the songs they wanted to hear, expelled through the group’s music with more intensity than either album lends itself to on record and through their bodies and movement with convulsive twitches that made the night and marked them as primo, adept performers.
Pulling songs from each of their two records, the set was torn in opposing directions. Between the two years that “Antidotes” and “Total Life Forever” were released, the band changed and developed their sound, moving away from the somewhat chaotic, fast tempo dance-rock to a more pop-trend. Building a 13 song set with songs from each conflicted the performance, butting the more drawn-out and comparatively more simple (but with distinct nuances throughout that make the songs great as each is) “Spanish Sahara,” “Afterglow,” and “Miami” against the heavier bass-laden, up tempo timbre of “Cassius” and “Red Socks Pugie” that put Foals onto the indie scene.
Picking between them which record is better is quite a contemplative choice, each standing apart from the other but each great musical achievements in their own regards that find themselves permanently fixed into the CD player. Foals’ live performance, however, confirms the success they attained with “Antidotes,” the bass being the backbone of the intensity and force of the rest of the instruments, driving their music to its utmost capacity of energy. Songs from “Total Life Forever” should lest not be forgotten or ignored, “This Orient” and “Alabaster” among those of the entire record that show that Foals has done it again, they have created a new brilliance within the indie genre.
“Electric Bloom” and “Balloons,” with short but power-packed guitar breaks throughout, brought out the band’s maximum retention of vigor. Spasms of hard-hit strings and drums transferred through to the body, Philippakis and guitarist Jimmy Smith especially shuddering and jerking their limbs into brief instances of fragility and deformation as the music was met with the same potential.
The night could have finished off with “Electric Bloom,” Philippakis picking up drum sticks and beating on a single drum with incredible angst. And yet the encore remained, to be fulfilled with two more older tracks. Following “The French Open,” the set ended with an anticipatory build up of “Two Steps, Twice.” Philippakis made his way through the crowd as the band slowly brought the intro of the song to its climax before breaking into the vocals. Once more the band burst into fitful seizures, ending with Philippakis pushing up against his amp, legs kicking back and fully letting his vocals go as the song peaked to its complete crest.
Bringing songs together from each record, jumping sound and genre, and an audience not fully enough aware or appreciative were their only down falls. “Antidotes” and “Total Life Forever” are separate records with different sounds. As independent pieces of work each can be considered a master stroke, but put together in performance they clash, the dance-rock genre of “Antidotes” rising above. For those less anxious to hear the singles and listen to each song as distinct, Foals performed with a power and aggression that unearthed the dense layers of instrumentation only to make it all the more raw and intense. It was clear that the group of British musicians are good performers, but if being pissed makes for more aggression and force, by all means, please do carry on.