Concert Review: Foals at Emos / by Tess Cagle

Originally published in ORANGE Magazine. 

Sandwiched between two cuddly couples and a rowdy group of sweat-soaked men in their thirties, the term “quintessential concert experience” came to mind at Foals’ show last Friday at Emo’s. It was exactly what I had come to expect after hearing rave reviews about the Oxford, England band’s live shows.

Orange, California rockers Kiev opened the show, and they had their work cut out for them. Openers can be hard to pay attention to at times, as the audience has rarely heard of the band, and is usually too restless to even give them a chance. Lead singer and guitarist Robert Brinkerhoff seemed well aware of this fact as he asked the crowd, “Where are our five fans at?” midway through their set.

And yet, against all odds, Kiev mesmerized from the second they picked up their instruments. The group has mastered the art of a perfectly balanced, heavy set, propelled by Derek Poulsen’s computerized synths and bass work and Andrew Stavas’ stellar saxophone playing. It was hard not to get excited every time Brinkerhoff thrashed and jumped around the stage. Even more impressively, the band managed to deliver a captivating performance on little to no sleep, after their van broke down the night before the show.  If Kiev started off their set with only a handful of supporters in the audience, they ended it with a slew of new fans.

Next up was Foals, who kicked things off with their traditional opening song, “Snake Oil.” Rather than explode out of the gate, the band started their set at a slow burn, gradually gathering steam as they rolled through “Snake Oil” and into “Olympic Airways.”

Foals followed “Olympic Airways” with hit single “My Number,” which garnered massive applause from the audience — particularly the band’s cult-like following of heavily intoxicated and equally sweaty men.  These dudes knew every word to every song and boasted loudly that Foals were “exactly the same and just as good as they were at ACL four years ago, bro.”

After “My Number,” the bands jumped into one of their heaviest songs to date, “Providence,” and accordingly cranked up the intensity one hundredfold.  Midway through the song, lead singer and guitarist Yannis Philippakis slammed his microphone  on the ground and plunged into the crowd. The band finished the second half of the song as Philippakis swam through the crowd, and he jumped back onstage just in time to make a seamless transition into “Give it All,” another hit single.

Foals rode the energy generated by “Providence” through hits like “Mountain at My Gates” and deeper cuts like “Spanish Sahara.” They had managed to impress by the time they reached their final song, “Inhaler,” but something was still lacking. This was far from the electrifying live show for which they were known.  Then, midway through “Inhaler,” Philippakis scaled the large speaker hanging from the ceiling to the left of the stage and leapt back down to the stage.   

At that moment, all hell broke loose. The crowd went insane as Philippakis and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Smith began to thrash back and forth as if they were dueling. Philippakis flirted with the crowd, teasing as if he were about to jump back in, and rolled around on the ground throughout the song. Afterward, the band left the stage and the crowd prepared themselves for the encore.

Foals returned to the stage and began playing “What Went Down.” Philippakis was done playing games now — he dove headfirst into the crowd, getting lost in the sea of heads despite security’s best efforts to keep an eye on him. Philippakis finally returned to the stage and screamed the end of the song, bringing the show to its climax.

Then,  as if jumping from the speakers and stage-diving hadn’t been enough to terrorize the stage crew, Philippakis decided he really needed a beer during the band’s final encore, “Two Steps, Twice.” Guitar still in hand, he charged offstage mid-song and bolted to the bar, where he disappeared for a few minutes before returning to the stage with his drink. Foals proceeded to finish the song and walked offstage.

Philippakis had quenched his thirst. And Foals had quenched ours.