Manchester Academy 1
2nd March 2013.
I originally wasn’t going to write about this. I’m going to see Foals twice at the Royal Albert Hall later in March and thought reviewing two gigs in the same day would be rather fun. However, I think Foals’ gig at Manchester Academy needs to be written about, because very rarely have I ever see a band nail it like Foals did.
Having missed the support band due to catching up with old mates in the pub, the sold out Academy is near capacity fifteen minutes before the band are due to come on. With a soundtrack of Orbital’s Wonky album playing as the crew set up, the atmosphere gradually reaches fever pitch. It is one which is very rare, almost comparable to the ‘big match’ atmosphere of an important football match.
Strolling on stage at some point around 21:15, the band individually come on and gradually introduce Prelude, opening track to new release Holy Fire. This instrumental track is the perfect opener, building towards a multi-layered and loud conclusion. The crowd responds positively, sensing that this is only the beginning.
What followed was 85 minutes of what can only be described as pure electronic indie perfection. Foals may have three critically acclaimed albums, but these are songs which are designed to be enjoyed in the live environment. Total Life Forever recalls early A Certain Ratio, and has the crowd bopping around, and then the crowd sing recent single My Number back at the band with near religious fervour.
Looking on from the side, this is extremely impressive. Whilst it’s by no means unusual for a sold out gig in the Academy, or similar sized venue, to have the throng down the front, this had that extra level of volume, and the vast majority of the crowd all the way to the back dancing away, being a part of the gig rather than just being a passive audience.
From my perspective, my gig started properly with After Glow. I have absolutely no idea if this track is underrated or not, but I do know it’s my favourite and that it hadn’t been on set lists earlier in the year. The temptation to ignore my twenty nine years and my professional reputation becomes irresistible and I dive in down the front. The crowds enthusiasm is not dampened by this near seven minute album track, and the rave like atmosphere complete with strobe lighting and lasers blows the metaphorical roof of the Academy.
Yannis then speaks to crowd, saying they are getting a treat by only the second ever performance of Milk and Black Spiders. Like After Glow, this starts slowly and quietly, if that’s even possible on this night with the crowd on this kind of vocal form, and builds towards a suitably epic conclusion, the type of which Foals are masters of. Arms are raised and the crowd bellows back the chorus with glorious abandon.
After great versions of first album favourite Balloons and then Holy Fire, the band break into an absolutely stunning version of current single Providence. This was simply jaw dropping. Fast paced, and loud, expanding on a song which already possesses one of the best outros in recent years. Yannis’ creating beautiful, echoing guitar lines almost reminiscent of Joy Division such is the haunting nature of them, but in context of what sound the band is creating actually enhances the rave like atmosphere.
And then the highlight. I don’t think I’ve ever experience anything quite so surreal, yet utterly beautiful as this version of Spanish Sahara. I imagine you’ve all heard the song, and if not, go and check it out. When I last saw Foals fifteen months ago at the Warehouse Project in Manchester, it was clear that to many people this is the song they go for. Again, the crowd passionately sings back every word at the band.
In something I’ve never seen before, the crowd then sits down for the first two quiet minutes of the song. I have no idea what is going on, but join in anyway. When the song picks up, the crowd burst back into life. Mates are on each other’s shoulders, posturing to the crowd to sing louder and dance harder. Arms are placed around strangers as if they’ve known each other since they day they were born. People who fall over down the front are grabbed before they hit the floor. Some guy loses his t shirt (no idea how) but refuses to let it get to him and continues to enjoy the gig. People go crowd surfing and then jump right back into the action.
It is this atmosphere that lasts the rest of the gig. The main set concludes with stunning versions of Red Sox Pugie – surely one of the greatest love songs ever written – and Electric. Foals again show incredible talent in taking a fairly dark song, and creating something about that is so joyous that hundreds of people can’t help but join in this celebration. Both songs saw mosh pits form with lots of people throwing themselves in and bumping off each other.
After a relatively long break for an encore, the band return for three songs – Moon, Inhaler and Two Steps, Twice. Moon is played before a lovely backdrop, of… well a moon. The crowd politely respects this slower number (perhaps they needed the break?) but seem to be aware of what is coming.
When I first heard Inhaler back in November, I was utterly captivated by it. Like I did when I was a teenager, I played it over and over again. If it was on vinyl the record would’ve been ruined through overplay. The crowd dances and sings as loud as anything, more mosh pits are formed and more crowd surfing take place.
Set closer is an absolute stunning version of Two Steps, Twice. 4 mins and 39 seconds on record, this version is twice that. An absolutely huge mosh pit forms, with people running around in circles the like of which I have only rarely seen before. It is the perfect ending.
After some experiences at gigs in Manchester recently, I was particularly worried that this gig would be ruined by people only there because Foals had a number two record in the album chart and (presumably) a fair bit of mainstream radio play. In hindsight, I need not have worried, and not because the gig sold out months ago before any of this chart success.
This was a band at the peak of their powers playing before a raucous, yet enthusiastic and respectful crowd. No fights in the crowd, no arguments, no throwing piss over each other, this crowd paid their money and wanted to enjoy it. Foals assisted them in doing this by playing a set of such quality. They played fast and they played loud. No idle chitter chatter, no pretentious guitar solos, no gimmicks bar a light show designed to enhance the party atmosphere that this music creates. I’ve been to gigs in all sizes of venues all over Europe, and this was one of the absolute best, without question.
People often ask me why I go to the gigs as often as I do. There are 1,194 words above which should make it perfectly clear. I do it because I like it. And I do it because whilst it’s very rare I see a truly bad band, I do it for nights like this. Foals fantastic fusion of dance and indie guitar created an atmosphere and gig the likes of which I’ve very rarely experienced.
Could they do it again? I’ll let you know on March 29th… I wouldn’t bet against it though.
All word by Liam Core. More of Liam’s articles on Louder Than War can be found in his authors archive.