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Review: Foals at First Direct Arena

29 February 2016
Review: Foals at First Direct Arena
“This one’s for everybody who saw us at the Brudenell Social Club” says Foals frontman Yannis Philipakis. It’s almost a decade to the day since the show he refers to, a pre debut-album support slot, one of the first the band ever played. Third on the bill supporting Battles and a band called Charlottefield, Foals first graced the City of Leeds on the 26th of February 2006.

Read anything about the band written in the last year and it’ll cover their social club to stadium spanning career like a rags to riches fairy tale, with a final twist expected as the band enter battle with their naysayers at their Leeds & Reading headline slot later this year.

The thing that seems surprising about Foals’ rise to arena-packing-stardom is that they’ve actually achieved it in a short space of time by working hard at their craft, with a musical integrity still intact, rather than by just winning X-Factor, collaborating with Beyoncé, or just being on Sony, which is an unusual feat for an artist making it on to the circuit in the 2010’s.

Glancing through Foals’ releases, it’s a rise that makes sense. Every album they’ve released has been an acclaimed, original and ear-worming piece of work, that contributes to a discography demonstrating the band’s ability to progress creatively within the boundaries of a sometimes very unimaginative and saturated genre. Each saw the band trying something different, receiving higher praise, attracting more fans and playing bigger venues than the tour before.

But place the band’s career alongside that of any contemporaries who’ve released four albums in the UK indie mainstream and you get a real understanding of how impressive their rise through the touring circuit has been.

When The Mystery Jets come to headline Live at Leeds this spring after album number five, Foals will be readying plans for their headline slot at Leeds & Reading. For the London leg of their Marks To Prove It tour earlier this year, The Maccabees played three shows at the Brixton O2, but Foals did Wembley. You could argue Bombay Bicycle Club got close to the arena circuit and they may have been on the cusp, but they just announced they’re taking a much needed break from each other.

You’d be forgiven for overlooking such comparisons if Foals shows were half empty or curtained off, but tonight at the First Direct Arena the 13500 capacity venue is in full swing.

Opening with ‘Snake Oil’ and ‘Olympic Airways’, the band start as they mean to go on, with an intense and satisfyingly eclectic set covering their back catalogue in a pleasingly balanced manner.

The aforementioned shout-out to The Brudenell Social Club precedes a surprise performance of ‘Balloons’, but going by the view from the seated stands ‘My Number’ and ‘What Went Down’ are the biggest pleasers as bouncing spirals open up and beers fly in the crowd below.

Visually, they manage an impressive display. Lasers intermittently fan across the room, and moving screens above and behind the band switch between live camera feeds, music video montages, and more artistic accompaniments. You might expect more from a Muse or Coldplay gig but it’s not bad considering the budget you’d have to work with from a very modest £25 ticket price.

The more down-beat ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Two Trees’ are the only real breathers in the set, and the impact of these ethereal, reverb-soaked performances makes it questionable whether Foals should have added a few more of these slower, dynamic numbers to their repertoire.

Their decision to opt for a full throttle, high tempo hour and a half instead is proven a wise one as their and the crowd’s energy seems to do nothing but increase through the night. Rounded off by a manic encore which includes a few rounds of trademark stage diving and crowd surfing during an extended performance of ‘Two Steps Twice’, there’s not much room to argue that Foals are overstepping the mark here.

Dan is a volunteer music writer for Leeds Living, reviewing gigs and festivals around the city. He also plays guitar in Leeds band Dancing Years
Photography provided by Anthony Longstaff