Foals

support Formation
author TL date 10/09/15 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Ever since we first covered Foals when they played Roskilde Festival in 2011, catching the band live and hoping for a dose of the same magic has been a top priority. The London-based indie/math-rock group may not always be the easiest to get into on record, but their material has a pulsing power to it that really has the potential to come to life in the live setting. A trip to Vega is entirely in order then, following the recent release of the band's newest album "What Went Down" (reviewed here). In order not only for us, but for many other Copenhageners (and judging from the British banter, a lot of British expats as well), as the venue grows full over the night to the point where Vega should maybe have sold a bit fewer tickets, as it eventually becomes hard to both see and move for anyone shorter than your average Scandinavian.

All photos courtesy of Thanos Arvaway

Formation

Earlier in the evening, however, there's more space between guests as the support band Formation, also from London, comes on to do their thing. The band's live constellation features a bassist, drummer and vocalist plus two guys on keys/electronics, which translates into a sound built on lively beats and booming ambiance, yet little in the ways of traditional melodic signatures. It falls on the band's frontman to take the lead then, which he goes at with a peculiar, sharp tone of voice, that sounds a bit like a less husky Lenny Kravitz, spit forth in a fast-paced, semi-rapped style with a bit of distortion added through the mix. There's a brief mishap at the show's very beginning where the microphone does not turn on until two lines into the song. But after this, to the band's credit, the beats and build-ups seem to go over well with the curious audience, and there's lively movement particularly from the drummer and the frontman.

Yet at the same time the singer puts up a somewhat self-involved attitude which feels premature - as if we're still waiting for their songs to convince us that he's actually earned it. And that seems to be a state the audience gets caught in for the duration of the set: Listening attentively to the beats, anxious for things to really take off, while observing the singer with a sort of mystified curiosity. On the upside, the band gives us a characteristic impression, but on the other hand, when the singer starts drumming on cowbells to aid the beat, it's hard to not think that Denmark has its own band that does this sort of thing better (Reptile Youth). Add an ear-catching melody to the ambiance here and there, and adjust the on-stage attitude to adapt better to where the audience is at, and Formation could easily make a stronger impression, though.

6

Foals

When the headliners come on, it becomes abundantly clear how costly a trip to the bar during the changeover is, as our new standing spots a bit behind the middle of Vega's largest room affords us very little opportunity to see more than glimpses of Foals on stage. Add the fact that the starting track, the excellent new cut "Snake Oil", is hindered by a sub-optimal mix, and the set is off to a somewhat shaky start. As things get ironed out over the course of "Olympic Airways" however, the familiar tones of crowd favourite "My Number" and new single "Mountain At My Gates" heighten the mood in the room noticeably. It becomes clear that the Foals crowd comes to a show ready to move, as hands shoot up and jumping ensues in a number of enclaves around the room.

Curiously, a hit like "Miami" is left out of this tour's setlist, in favour of a deeper cut like "Providence", but otherwise the middle of the set strolls through the band's selection of singles, reaching back across the hypnotically blooming "Spanish Sahara" from 2010, all the way to 2008's "Red Socks Pugie". All the while, frontman Yannis Philippakis is strumming his guitar with his customary intensity, at one point getting up on the barrier to get the crowd going. Meanwhile, fellow guitarist Jimmy Smith opts to have a cigaret while playing, appearing oddly casual amidst the otherwise lively movements and beats.

Moving towards the show's ending, time comes to a bit of a standstill during "Late Night" and "A Knife In The Ocean", which gives the keen observer time to note that regrettably, Foals strengths do not come across in full force in tonight's setting. The band's music is so clearly made to completely immerse the listener in a dark and dreamy world where you can groove like no one is watching, yet for some reason the stage lights that point towards the audience are on for the majority of the night, as if someone in control has not realised how much more it suits the music when it's mainly dark in the audience while rays of light criss-cross horizontally across the stage. And simultaneously, even when Vega's sound system is cranked way up for three final songs, the immensely powerful "Inhaler" and "What Went Down" and the older classic "Two Steps, Twice", you still don't feel as surrounded and drowned in the sound that you could hope for.

It speaks of how specific a type of experience Foals' music is made for then, that we do not quite get there tonight, despite a seemingly satisfied majority of the audience getting their grooves on for much of the evening. The glimpses we get during the hard-edged "Inhaler" and "What Went Down" still get the message across well under the circumstances though, which is symptomatic for the evening: Namely that Foals show us in a number of moments what they're capable off, yet the sub-optimal light control and overly-crowded room makes it hard to get everything humming at the desired, escalating frequency. Sell a bit fewer tickets and put a light guy on the job who gets the band's appeal more, then we're talking and then we could probably easily stand a few more tracks while Foals would no doubt also feed off our energy more and get even wilder as a result. As it stood this evening, Philipakkis' climbing of the balcony towards the end felt a bit forced considering that the energy was good, but not quite on that level of exuberance.

Setlist

  • 1. Snake Oil
  • 2. Olympic Airways
  • 3. My Number
  • 4. Mountain at My Gates
  • 5. Give It All
  • 6. Providence
  • 7. Spanish Sahara
  • 8. Red Socks Pugie
  • 9. Late Night
  • 10. A Knife In the Ocean
  • 11. Inhaler

Encore:

  • 12. What Went Down
  • 13. Two Steps, Twice

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