Foals at 3Arena, Dublin 10th February 2016
The time has come for Foals to take the step up, and what a step up it is.
When the Oxford band visited Dublin back in 2014, they played the Olympia Theatre, with frontman Yannis Philippakis climbing up the stage-side boxes with his guitar still strapped around his shoulder. He balanced on the outside of the rail on the first floor balcony and closed off an absolute riot of a gig by driving security crazy and rocking out in a way that nobody who witnessed it will forget in a hurry.
The problem with arenas is you can’t really do stuff like that, and this tour – for the first time in Foals career – is all about arenas. Should Philippakis try to stroll around the outer rims of the 3Arena’s first floor he’d rightly be slammed for crossing the line between adventurously lively and flat out stupid. A new level means a new approach; a move from an intimate brashness to something else. Not a problem, fortunately.
Foals – even before tens of thousands – is all about energy. From the blast of strobe lighting that greets opener Snake Oil and sees the band emerge into heavy pogoing and jarring riffs they go hard, adding a phenomenal lighting set-up that reflects the very energy they’d previously deliver by getting right in an audience’s collective space.
Things start heavy, and go on heavy. Heavier than we’ve seen Foals before, with more bass and starker riffs.
There’s very little let up. With tracks seemingly picked based largely on their sheer energy (there’s very little from their most mellow release Total Life Forever on offer, for one), Philippakis simply brazens it out, all hustle as he comfortably fronts up alongside Jimmy Smith on guitar.
My Number, Mountains At My Gate and Olympic Airways fly by, moments of impressively intricate noise that build and build to whopping crescendos, but are also cleverly ordered so the set on the whole seems to peak the same way.
There are slower corners, but not much slower. Latest single Birch Tree is a moment of relative calm and melancholy, but it flows into Give It All and the massive peak that is Providence, all slamming chords and jarring energy.
The pattern repeats, with Red Socks Pugie giving way to the tense dip of A Knife in the Ocean and the monstrous peak of Inhaler.
Foals look every bit a band that belong at arena level, but Philippakis takes a moment to acknowledge getting this far.
“Thanks to everyone who’s been with us since the start,” he says on returning for the encore and emptying a bottle of water on the front rows. “We never thought we’d play in a place like this. This is surreal to us.”
It’s surreal to us, too. Having followed Foals since the ‘Antidotes’ days, it’s often felt like it’s the sheer intensity that made them such a compelling live act, and like that belong to venues where you can see the whites of the band’s eyes as they laud it over the front barrier or crowdsurf intensely between lines.
But tonight’s unquestionably a triumph, and if there’s a moment that shows it, it’s the very last. Two Steps, Twice is everything great about Foals: twisting, bizarrely structured, slightly jarring and peaking with one absolute monster of a rock-out crescendo.
Tonight was all about those highs, and with a smartly designed setlist, a little help from some lasers and strobes, and a lot of front, very nearly matched the intensity of the Olympia show two years ago. Foals, clearly, are at the height of their powers.