Yannis Philippakis isn’t averse to getting into the crowd. You might say he loves it: the Foals singer has even been known to leap off the stage at such usually restrained affairs as a Rough Trade in-store performance.
But as the band’s following grows and they graduate to ever larger venues like Alexandra Palace, it’s been increasingly difficult for the average fan to get in on the very physical audience participation.
So intimate shows, like a free album release party at London’s House of Vans, are like catnip for fans wanting the full visceral experience. And a sweaty, raucous, body-breaking experience is certainly what the lucky 850 ticket holders (picked from over 40,000 applicants) get tonight.
Every time the band perform a song that’s faster than 100 bpm (like just about everything in the tight 90-minute set), those 850 bodies become a raging sea. Every time a song kicks into a higher gear (like the swamp groove Syrups), the raging sea starts resembling a tsunami. And every time a classic crops up (like the soaring Olympic Airways from their debut, Antidotes), that tsunami all but crashes over the barriers.
The security guards up front have their hands full fishing out one crowd surfer after another, and that’s even before Philippakis makes his way down the makeshift flightcase stairs and into the maelstrom himself.
Although the rest of the band never venture off the stage, drummer Jack Bevan especially matches the dynamism of both frontman and crowd. He can’t join Philippakis up on the speaker stacks, but isn’t averse to climbing up on his kit and, with arms raised, inciting even more audience clapping, waving, and pogoing.
The soundtrack to all this activity is equally energetic. The Runner, the propulsive opening track of brand new LP Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2, sets the pace with its chunky riff, nimble solo, and sports anthem chorus. Mountain At My Gates (from 2015’s What Went Down) keeps the momentum going as Philippakis sings “I’ll drive my car without the brakes” over an unstoppable groove that, during the final minute, kicks into overdrive.
The pace and intensity never relent as the quartet (augmented by a keyboard player and percussionist) dive head first into all six of their albums. My Number glistens just as brightly as it did on 2013’s Holy Fire, Black Gold has only grown more magnificent in the eight years since debuting on Total Life Forever, and the urgent, primal title track of their fourth album is now just as worthy of inclusion in the encore as 2008’s hypnotic Two Steps, Twice.
But the focus is justifiably on the two-part album released this year. March’s triumphant Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 is represented by the likes of nimble synth- and cowbell-heavy rocker On The Luna, ethereal dream turned thumping dance party Sunday, dark and twisting Exits, and non-stop rave In Degrees.
Part 2 highlights like the sonic stampede Black Bull have already found their rightful place in the Foals repertoire so, on release day, it’s only fitting that two tracks make their live debut.
Like Lightning, with its scuzzed-up guitars, distorted vocals, and grimy groove, is the bluesiest they’ve ever sounded.
And Wash Off, which is all shimmering guitars, metronomic beats, booming backing vocals, and despair (“I heard that it won’t be long/ Until we’re gone like dew in the morning”), is easily one of the most commanding songs in their catalogue.
It’s very likely to be in the set when Foals head out on the road again next year, by which time they’ll hopefully also have added Part 2’s crowning glory, the epic 10-minute closer Neptune. A swirling, atmospheric shapeshifter that’s their most ambitious yet, it was written to be experienced live.
But as we depart the tunnels beneath Waterloo station at the Vans-branded indoor skate park slash gig venue, the lucky few of us in attendance tonight know we’ve been part of something special – an experience just as much for the band as the fans in the room. And those of us squashed firmly against the barriers at the front, having carried Philippakis’ weight on our shoulders as he sings from within the crowd, can’t help but grin enormously as we process the experience.
Foals take Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2 on tour next year, including a show at London’s Olympia on 2nd May.
Review of Foals at House Of Vans on 18th October 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photographs by Kalpesh Patel.