Back in February 2014, Yannis Philippakis attempted his usual jump from the balcony at Birmingham’s O2 Academy during Foals‘ headline tour, only to be restrained by security. Flash forward two years later, and he finally achieved his stage-jumping dream in Birmingham, only this time in a much large setting: the Barclaycard Arena.
When news broke of Foals headlining arenas, there was speculation: could a band such as themselves sell out venues of this capacity and be able to translate their intimately raucous live shows to an audience of at least 15,000 each night? Their performance at the Barclaycard proved this to be true, perhaps even tenfold. I have never known a band perform to an arena in such a way that transports you back to those small academy rooms, making you feel as though you’re not in a large arena crowd but front row of a 200-person capacity venue. Bringing with them support from Everything Everything and a (very questionable) DJ set from Dom and Harry of Peace, the scene was set. Whilst Everything Everything’s set didn’t fully transcend, their style not fully translating and leaving crowd members less familiar with them a little confused, the excitement was palpable. The DJ set, if you can call it that, was essentially a pretty pissed Boyce and Koisser playing songs from a Spotify playlist, and probably shouldn’t have even been touted as a support slot. However, their choices made the whole crowd have a dance and get in the mood for the main headliner.
Foals’ live shows are always a spectacle, and this tour was no different. Opening with What Went Down banger, ‘Snake Oil’, Foals roared onto stage, Philippakis taking ownership of the overzealous crowd from the get-go. Ripping through a setlist that included gems from all four of their albums released thus far, however with a shameful lack of tracks from second and perhaps their best album, Total Life Forever, the energy was exhilarating – I felt as though one more bass riff would send me toppling into the mosh pit never to be seen again. The audiences at Foals shows are notoriously rowdy, and the Barclaycard was no exception: however, despite the constant pushing and shoving, each audience member seemed to know the ins and outs of the setlist, all the nuances and riffs, which is always a great sight to behold at a live show of this size.
The transitions between tracks were effortless, the band launching from ‘Balloons’ and ‘Providence’, chanting ‘I’m an animal just like you’ like an army command before seamlessly calming down into cult favourite, ‘Spanish Sahara’. A personal highlight was a Holy Fire cut, ‘Late Night’. The bass-tastic, funky track was introduced by Yannis as a tribute to ‘all the primary school teachers, deep-sea divers, smoothie bar workers… oh, and my mother’. Despite being a fairly lengthy number, it was an absolutely mesmerising performance from a band that, despite having purposefully rough edges, can put on an interesting and technically sound show no matter the tone and speed of a track. The band performed with a new level of maturity and backed by an incredible light show, there was no chance of being able to look away during their set.
The reception of new tracks from What Went Down was brilliant. Despite being performed in-between instant crowd pleasers from Holy Fire and Antidotes, in particular ‘My Number’ and ‘Red Socks Pugie’, they were met with elation from the crowd. Apart from the lack of ‘Birch Tree’, arguably one of the best songs on WWD, the setlist as a whole was well rounded and ticked all the boxes on a ‘Best Ever Foals Show’ checklist, if there ever was need for one. This was cemented by usual show closer, ‘Two Steps, Twice’ which included an absolutely wonderful guitar solo from Philippakis, sending the crowd into such a frenzy that I was temporarily unable to locate my friends due to the severity of jumping around. Leaving the Barclaycard covered in bruises, doused in sweat and desperately needing a drink after so much dancing, I knew I’d just witnessed the birth of a new Foals era, one in which they can play such large shows with an energetic tenacity many bands can only dream of. The only way to describe the night perfectly would be to use Yannis’ own words: Birmingham forever.
[Originally written for Redbrick Music]