Live review: Foals at Newcastle O2 Academy 12/02/14

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“A little horse that still needs milk.”

The words with which Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC’s enigmatic manager recently rebutted a question posed on his side’s championship hopes this season. Anaemic Foals were this band during second album TotalLife Forever, threatened by the world; in a state of permanent dissatisfaction resulting in a solitude complex permeating throughout the album. They sought a refuge, brilliantly encapsulated in the lyrics of Spanish Sahara, still their single greatest achievement to date or escape in older Antidotes fan favourite Olympic Airways: “DIS-A-PPEAR”.

Tonight, the “little horse” has evaporated and in its place Foals mark II are born. Gone is the naïve math-rock to make young indies dance and in its place a machismo assault at the heavier end of the spectrum. For a band labelled Afrobeat in their early years this is not some metal-afro fusion rather a slightly distorted combination of the two which to a large degree ignites in the live setting.

The band enter as befits a genuine headliner, having cut their teeth with immense success at last summer’s Latitude, amidst a hypnotic spectacle of green lasers, eventually emitting the vest dressed guitarist, Jimmy Smith, who casually plucks the opening to Holy Fire’s ‘Prelude’. This is a song of far too epic proportion for the smaller crowd tonight and is clearly designed with the arena stage in mind to rival the opening throbs of Arctic Monkeys’ already iconic ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. Devoid of Yannis Philippakis’s grovelling howl ‘Prelude’ lacks the sonic dislocation which distinguishes it and is a protracted and overwrought jam sliding into two breezier numbers ‘Hummer’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ to the manifest delight of the majority sub twenty audience.

This delight reaches an ecstatic crescendo as the captivatingly catchy and most mainstream pop of the night ‘My Number’ reverberates around the bouncing bobs of the dance floor, before ushering in the tender beauty of Total Life Forever opener ‘Blue Blood’. Alongside the staggeringly transcendent, ‘Spanish Sahara’, these tracks are the emotional zenith of the night and a personal highlight because they both display the diversity of Foals as a complex art rock vanity project. Disappointingly, the performance omits the equally brilliant ‘BlackGold’ or ‘Afterglow’ and instead of the free percussive dexterity of their earlier material, we are subjected to brainless and endless heavy freak outs on the underwhelming ‘Providence’ as Yannis sneers “I’m an animal just like you”, a lazy shadow of the potential this band has to carve a niche with their unique intellectual diversity.

On the other hand, the laser show pulls the spectacle through and the red lasers on ‘Providence’ and blue haze to accompany ‘Spanish Sahara’ provide a sparse splendour which blends with the music to embellish it further. Though the scourge of the modern gig, the blanket phone coverage, obscures and undermines the whole attempt to concoct an immersive show. Yannis has his moment as he bombs into the crowd and materialises on the bar during the encore’s stomping ‘Two Steps, Twice’ to give the arena filling material the intimate feel and frantic energy of an early bar gig. The arena material is at its best on the main set closing, jaw dropping magnificence of afro metal staple ‘Inhaler’ which truly displays the apex of heavy Foals to make the “impossible possible” and redefine their art or alt rock on a heavier platform.

The connection between Philippakis and this generation is palpable as the ‘young fans of Yannis’ or ‘Fannies’ echo ‘Late Night’’s refrain: “Oh now Mama, do you hear me, calling out your name?” The band can still deal in emotional gravity. It is now peeping out from a hollow mainstream pleasing Holy Fire faster, louder framework devoid of the deep profundity of Total Life Forever. Still, on the whole it is a tight and diverse set with which to assault the UK circuit, though perhaps not a total reflection of Foals championship hopes.

Photograph: ninazimmermann

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