Fresh off the back of an electric set at Glastonbury, Oxford maths-rock stalwarts Foals stormed the stage for the first of two sold-out shows at Auckland Town Hall. Over their hour and a half set, it became abundantly clear that they are a band at the absolute top of their game.
Over the last fourteen years, Foals have metamorphosed to operate in the space between art school darlings and bona fide rock n roll superstars. Their debut album Antidotes was released in 2008, the same year as Vampire Week’s self-titled effort. Both of them were taking their influences from the likes of The Rapture, but juxtaposing elaborate instrumentation against funkier West-African influenced guitar work. At the time, Vampire Weekend garnered the critics' favour, leaving Foals to establish themselves as a formidable live force.
Make no mistake they [Foals] are still a chaotic, exhilarating watch, but there is an underlying quiet confidence that seems to come with age.
This initial reception has ultimately held the band in good stead as their sound developed and their stage presence matured. Last night proved that Foals have harnessed the wide-eyed intensity and tottering exuberance of their youth. Make no mistake they are still a chaotic, exhilarating watch, but there is an underlying quiet confidence that seems to come with age.
Last night’s setlist had been written to be a crowd pleaser. It spanned Foals' five-album career to date. Given the breadth that their sound encompasses, this was a bold move, but the band’s confidence meant that the unabashedly noughties indie rock of Antidotes – with its intricate riffs and plaintively human lyricism sits comfortably alongside the esoteric production of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 1) and classic stadium rock of What Went Down. Their sheer musicality coupled with an immersive light show ensured that their set – that would have been disjointed in the hands of any other band - merged beautifully.
Given the reputation of Foals, I had steeled myself for plenty of intense moments. However, the song that bristled with viscerality was Inhaler from their 2013 album Holy Fire. It was always a heavy listen on record but morphed into a primal, gut-wrenching, thundering moment live. Frontman Yannis Philippakis is charismatic at the best of times, but seeing him and legions of sweat-covered fans screaming “I CAN’T GET ENOUGH SPACE” was not only appropriate, it sent shivers down this hardened reviewer's spine. Moments like that were expertly tempered by more jaunty numbers – notably a bouncy rendition of My Number, a song with shameless exuberance helped along by Jimmy Smith’s sunny guitar work. They rounded the evening off with Two Steps Twice, a punchy song brimming with adolescent excitement, highlighting just how far the band has come.
Those of you who are lucky enough to have tickets not only to Foals but fellow indie darlings Warpaint are in for a real treat tonight. Undoubtedly strong contenders for one of the gigs of the year in this ageing hipsters book.