2019 is an odd time to be going to your first Foals gig. The Oxford rock outfit have been around for fourteen years, released five studio albums, and played everywhere from Glastonbury to Coachella, Roskilde to Reading. By 2015 and the release of What Went Down, the band had cemented their status as one of the biggest names in UK Indie; today there are few bigger, perhaps only The 1975 and Arctic Monkeys. But they announced a pair of June dates behind latest album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 in a small Kingston upon Thames venue (PRYZM), for only £10… naturally, it was time to finally get my act together and see what the fuss is about.
The band declared that these shows – as well as May’s at O2 Academy Leeds – would be a special opportunity to play the new albumin full, with no oldies. They also hinted at a preview of Part 2, which is out in later in the year. On arrival, the sense of occasion is increased by the message on the doors: “FOALS are filming a little something at tonight’s gig. By entering the venue, you’re consenting to being a part of this.” There’s the palpable feeling that this will be something special.
By 8pm on Thursday 27th, when Foals are due to start the “matinee show”, the southwest London nightclub barely leaves space to breathe, and the attendees (mixed gender, usually under the age of thirty) feverishly anticipate the arrival of frontman Yannis Philippakis and Co. They appear ten minutes late, but it doesn’t matter. After the patient, sweeping ‘Moonlight’, they tear into Part 1 lead single ‘Exits’ and the place comes alive. It’s a full-scale riot as this leads into ‘White Onions’ and then ‘In Degrees’: the kind of atmosphere I’d entirely anticipated (and been told to expect) from a Foals gig.
Yannis uses the album mid-point to say a few words, specifically eight: “It’s gonna be a sweaty one, isn’t it?” The band then launch into ‘Syrups’ followed by ‘On the Luna’, another single released prior to March’s full release of Part 1, and another of the more traditionally Foals sounding tunes on it. By this point, like everyone, I’ve ended up at a different end of the standing section and am, as Yannis predicted, immensely sweaty.
Next: ‘Cafe d’Athens’, a personal highlight of the new offerings, which he admits to only having played “about three times”. The set then segues into ‘Surf Pt. 1’, confirming that they weren’t lying: this is the album in full, interlude included. After the lively, dynamic ‘Sunday’, the band round things off with ‘I’m Done with the World (& It’s Done with Me)’, the first time Yannis is onstage guitar-less, now pacing instead of stomping for the three-minute duration of the piano ballad.
Minutes after leaving it, the group come back onstage for two more. Firstly, and as promised, something new: ‘Black Bull’. Yannis teased on more than one occasion over the night that this was “a ripper”; it is, and is undeniably fun live, no matter how familiarly Foals the riff-heavy territory is. It’s followed by Holy Fire favourite ‘Inhaler’, an almighty send-off to proceedings and Yannis’ ticket to finally disappearing offstage and reappearing in the audience: a trick the live shows are known for. The euphoria is infectious, giving us all a spring in our step for the walk home.
Exiting the venue, an overexcited thirtysomething near me turns to his young daughter and realises she didn’t enjoy it as much as either he or his group of thirtysomething friends, who he turned to next for reassurance. I overhear somebody else point out the set-list omission of ‘Two Steps, Twice’, which I too had been led to believe was the high point of the Foals live show. The band set out to separate these concerts from the rest of the tour, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise, nor too disheartening. It could also be a sign of things to come. After Autumn’s release of Part 2, the band will have a whole 20 new songs to play with, so perhaps the live formula to date will be chopped, changed, and switched up a bit.
This can only be a good thing. After all, we always need that song we didn’t hear or that reason to go back and see a band again. Having regrettably skipped the big arena tours for a good four years now, it’s something I myself will certainly be doing here, in the case of Foals. Perhaps Part 2 will be the opportunity. It’ll be bliss: sweaty and energetic, but with a bit of space to actually move around in, with actual balconies for Yannis to climb and jump from. Maybe the higher ticket price will accurately reflect the bigger venue budget… maybe something as miraculous and momentous as air-conditioning installation. One can dream.