Foals play a joyous set at Brixton Academy, showcasing their glittery new songs alongside the most rousing, energetic anthems of their back catalogue.
“Might start writing a record & making soap,” Yannis Philippakis tweeted in March 2020, just a few days before England went into lockdown. While there’s no news on the Foals singer-guitarist’s range of bath bombs, that record is now imminent. Called Life Is Yours, it’s due next month with early reports throwing around descriptions like “euphoric”, “sunny”, and even “best of their career”.
The band themselves are certainly confident about their seventh album, playing four new songs during a jubilant Sunday night performance at Brixton Academy. Wake Me Up, which shimmers like a disco ball, is the perfect set opener: fast, fun, and boasting a chorus that only needs to be heard once before you can shout along. The irrepressibly cheerful 2am — all groove, bounce, and slinky guitar licks — sounds equally ecstatic tonight.
The as-yet-unreleased Life Is Yours retains the summery, big-beat, keyboard-led vibe, but turns down the pace and intensity a little, a sundown soundtrack that allows Philippakis to show off his croon. But it’s the effortless 2001, touted as a future single, that shines brightest of the new songs with its hypnotic stomp, funk rhythms, and smooth-as-George Benson guitar solo.
All four tracks sound at home in a set heavy on rousing, energetic anthems like a towering Mountain At The Gates, the always nimble Olympic Airways, ass-shaking My Number, dancefloor filler In Degrees (ending with a synth-heavy breakdown that wouldn’t be out of place in Ibiza), and the intimate Late Night, which slowly unfolds into one of the night’s biggest singalongs capped by a fittingly epic Philippakis guitar solo.
The frontman, though planted at the microphone while singing, moves at every chance he gets, gliding across the stage, leaping onto the drum riser, pogoing on the spot, spinning towards centre stage to jam with unflappable guitarist Jimmy Smith, or disappearing into the crowd (repeatedly). Drummer Jack Bevan would tag along if he could, but still makes the most of his stationary position behind the kit, frequently leaping up onto his chair or even coming down to the front of the stage to encourage the crowd to clap out the beat.
Despite having lost keyboard player Edwin Congreave to Cambridge University in September, Foals sound as powerful as ever. That’s partly down to the expanded touring lineup, with Joe Price joining percussionist Kit Monteith and bass player Jack Freeman. But mostly it’s down to the band’s continued growth in terms of success, confidence, and venue size. They haven’t performed at Brixton Academy since 2010 and just last week played four sold-out nights at London’s 7,000-capacity Olympia.
Judging from the delirious fan footage posted to social media after those shows, they haven’t downscaled the production tonight: from the elegant lighting strips at the back and sides of the minimalist white stage to the giant screen displaying a unique flower-themed visual (falling in slow motion, floating, spinning, kaleidoscoping, opening in grainy timelapse footage) for each song.
Judging from the volume, they haven’t downscaled the sound rig either.
That becomes increasingly obvious as the set builds and builds in intensity, not unlike Spanish Sahara itself. The audience greets the opening chord with cheers of recognition, sings the melody even before the plaintive vocal begins, and claps in time as the bass drum kicks in. The beat and volume gradually increase before the pent-up tension is finally released with another gear shift, a stadium-ready guitar solo, and an ever-increasing pace.
There’s a gradual comedown, but it doesn’t last long as the band launch straight into Providence, which kicks off the final run of songs with its pummeled drums, scuzzy guitars, barked vocals, feedback-fueled instrumental freakout, and a Philippakis foray into a crowd somehow even more energetic than the men on stage. That shared energy only grows during a sweaty Inhaler that ends the main set with a second lead singer walkabout and another electrifying jam.
Not even an encore break dissipates the momentum. If unadulterated garage rocker Black Bull is Foals at their grittiest, the driving What Went Down is Foals at their heaviest, capped by Philippakis playing a solo on his knees before bounding to the foot of the stage to sing straight at the heaving front row. And the irrepressible Two Steps, Twice is Foals at their most fun thanks to that distinctive kwela guitar lick, sudden time changes, and insatiable swing. Even at the end of an already feel-good, high-energy show, it’s a real mood booster. This is rock with a smile.
Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is www.nilsvanderlinden.com. He hosts the weekly Mood Swings show on Louder Than War Radio, live every Wednesday from 8-9pm here, and available on Mixcloud afterwards.