British math-rock band Foals returned to our shores for the first time in six years with two sold-out shows this weekend. The atmosphere was understandably charged, as the bustling audience jostled for place in anticipation of Foals’ return to the Kiwi stage.
Local act Daffodils played to an enthusiastic crowd. Their performance was full of energy – any folks wandering past the Auckland Town Hall must have been able to hear their set on Friday evening. They were a great opener – charismatic and entertaining – but the crowd was really there for one thing only.
When it was time for their entrance, red smoke billowed onstage as a robotic voice announced “Everything not saved will be lost” – the title of Foals’ two-part album, where Part 2 will be arriving in October. A humongous roar rose up through the crowd, and the last few who’d been waiting for drinks outside practically sprinted in.
They immediately set off with ‘On the Luna’ – a very bouncy rock tune with the flashing lights to match. The lights catch off the backdrop of glow-in-the-dark palm trees, which blend nicely with the real foliage that is dotted around the stage. It’s a good twist on a seemingly simple work of staging. Without interruption, Foals switch into ‘Mountain’- a fan favourite track that has the energetic audience clapping. The beat is infectious, and perfectly matches the light display. Lead singer and lead guitarist Yannis Philippakis’ voice is really featured in this track – with a pleasant burr edging his tone as the song progresses.
It is clear that Philippakis has a very flexible range as they switch into the half-screamo tune ‘Snake Oil’. This song is a real highlight, and they’re only three songs in. The lights shift to a pulsing amber as they lead into a thumping coda. It is a testament to the crowd’s passion that you can hear the crowd sing over the very loud lyrics.
Philippakis emphasises that after six years “It feels bloody good to be back” before leaping into ‘Olympic’. It features a very funky moment on the guitars. These band members are very good musicians and they are clearly enjoying it up on stage. The song ends with Philippakis stepping down from the stage and leading the crowd in a rapidfire clap sequence. They don’t take a breath before they naturally segue into their number one hit ‘My Number’. It’s a great dance track, and there’s a high octane energy in the Town Hall. Multiple people are bobbing atop the crowd on people’s shoulders, as the rest jump up and down. One guy at the front starts throwing his plastic cup up and down in celebration. Just like the band, it is clear the audience are having a good time.
They move smoothly into ‘Black Gold’. This performance is well-practiced with such easy transitions between songs, often without pausing. It is marked, in this moment, that Foals are a great rock band. A great, oft underlooked, rock band with all their members working furiously to pull off a high-calibre performance. It is clearly appreciated by Philippakis, as it’s almost impossible to hear him amongst the shouts and whistles. He closes his small speech with a simple “Fuck yeah! Thank you” before he introduces ‘Sunday’.
‘Sunday’ is a slower, mellower track. Bright, golden light shines from the pylons they have littered about the stage. It ends with a great build, akin to a bass heavy DJ set. All three levels of the town hall are packed. The red smoke fills the stage again, silhouetting the members of Foals inside them. The grungy bass solo of ‘Syrup’ opens, and it’s a groovy track, with lots of people dancing along in the crowd. It can, at times, be a little difficult to make out Philippakis’ individual words, but whether that’s a question of levels or the noise of the crowd is hard to tell.
Foals’ lighting design is something that really has to be mentioned. Never over the top – as that’s not part of their style – the lighting design is nevertheless clever and perfectly synced to the music and the actions of the band. As Philippakis stands alone at the front of the stage, a pale white light highlights him for the beginning of ‘Providence’. This switches to frenetic spotlights as the rest of the band come in and pick up the tempo. Foals has kept this high energy pace going all night, with amazing instrumental moments. Philippakis gets down off the stage at one point and rocks a solo whilst standing on top of the thrashing crowd.
Even amongst this wild performance, there is a keen anticipation as they begin to play a personal favourite ‘Spanish Sahara’. The stage lights shift into a perfect blue that spills out onto the crowd. It is a dramatic change from ‘Providence’, and it’s beautiful.
The blue shifts to bright pink as Foals picks the tempo right back up with ‘Red Sox Pugie’. Jack Bevan, drummer, stands on top of his drumset as the rest of the band draw closer to the front of the stage. The crowd is jumping up and down, clapping feverishly, as the guitars rock out in a great final moment. Philippakis takes a moment to thank the audience, saying it’s amazing how they can play songs from 10 years ago and still be received in this fashion. There is a sense you get that the band is, not exactly blown away, but incredibly enthused by the reaction they have received after being away from NZ for so long.
‘Exits’, the first single from their touring album, is definitely different in style to their older tracks, but fits right into Foals’ sound. Foals is definitely a rock band, but manages to maintain a pleasingly varied range within their discography. ‘Exits’ definitely highlights Edwin Congreave on keys with a great continuous melody line throughout. Bevan, on drums, also deserves a good shout out for his incredible and expressive facials that he made throughout the show. A resounding drumbeat sets off ‘In Degrees’ which features very 70s quasi Depeche Mode synth. It is a very fun song, with everybody dancing. Philippakis brings out an egg shaker at the end.
On levels of audience enjoyment, this was an excellent concert. For ‘White Onions’ you could feel the floor moving underneath from the strain of people jumping up and down. In their last song before the encore, Philippakis announced it briefly saying they’ve “waited 6 years to play this one back here.” ‘Inhaler’, from their album Holy Fire, would have been a fresh new track when they were last in NZ. It was clearly missed. The crowd goes wild at the half-screamed chorus as the band switches from funky guitar to hard rock. You couldn’t help but headbang. In a truly frenzied moment, Philippakis directs the raging crowd to kneel. The band built for almost a minute before the crowd exploded upwards as an enormous monochromatic banner of two stone lions fell from the seeing. An image that far more thematically fits the atmosphere the band had created in the Town Hall than the far too chill glow-in-the-dark palm trees.
The crowd is noisy as they clap and scream and chant and pound for one more song. Foals comes back to play ‘Balloons’ where it is noticeable, as it was in the previous track, how Foals are very good at switching between and diversifying their styles. Philippakis raises his hand and starts flickering his fingers in order to introduce the second to last song. It makes no sense to this reviewer, but the crowd copies him automatically. ‘What Went Down’ possesses a very heavy ‘runaway train’ guitar base. Halfway through, Philippakis takes the mic off the stand and steps back into the crowd. The lights fall and it is dark but for the wildly flashing white lights. As the song climaxes, Philippakis falls forward into the crowd and lets them carry him for an instrumental break.
When Philippakis is returned to stage, he sums up this show and its crowd in the best way possible:
“You guys are rowdy tonight.”
Foals arrived back in New Zealand with a bang. This was an epic rock show, and the first show that has felt like such in a long time.