The world has its beautiful people. We’re all familiar with them. Their perfect faces adorn magazine covers, movie posters, and power-pop stages. Perfect – and perfectly interchangeable. And then, there are those with the kind of beauty we might never have noticed had it not, say, been scooped up and gifted to us by a Joss Whedon … or appeared to us on a stark stage, adorned only by their sound and their fury. Like Foals at the 9:30 on Friday night.
It’s not that Foals’ recordings aren’t fantastic. They are. They inspired us to purchase our tickets well in advance of the evening’s eventual sell-out. But the recordings, though wonderful, don’t begin to do justice to this band’s true power. On the album, you hear influences, both direct and indirect. Robert Fripp. Talking Heads. A melding of Britain’s old punk and Goth scenes, running straight up from “Ians” Curtis and McCulloch, through Robert Smith, with a bit of a detour through the Islands (at night) and a stop at a dance club or two for good measure. Live, though, the contours of these influences fade. Like the five men who comprise Foals, seemingly dispirit parts become, when combined on stage, a transcendent whole. This transformation is effected, in part, by some mad musical skills, a few powerful personas, and a healthy dose unabashed passion. (Talented drummer Jack Bevan continually leapt from his seat while playing like a drop of water hitting hot oil in a frying pan.) But there’s also alchemy at work here. And alchemy tends to resists packaging – whether it be fashion photography or record production. “I saw pictures, but I never realized she was so beautiful!” Packaging does not often capture life-force. And, live, Foals spin a world of elemental power – churning seas; swirling sands; raging winds; draining blood – that they allow their audience to inhabit with them. Walk away from the venue, cue up the album … and see a very pretty postcard. If you were lucky enough to be there – and you are blessed with excellent sense-memory – perhaps you will be able to reconstruct, in your dreaming imagination, the feeling of the creation you witnessed on stage.
Now, for those still reading, a few memorable moments. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis takes the stage as an unassuming – unkempt, even – mortal. He looks, we decided after several minutes of pondering, like a muscular Morgan Grimes (for all you “Chuck” fans) with a Prince pompadour. Shortly after we came up with this odd description – and just as I was thinking, “I wonder what he’d look like in Prince’s trademark stilettos & trench coat.” – he jumped up on one of the large speakers at the far end of the stage. “At least he won’t pull out an ejaculating guitar,” my brain continued, as “Purple Rain” played on in my head. Instead, Philippakis pulled himself up onto the balcony overlooking the stage, where admiring fans from the opening bands eagerly helped pull him up. As he disappeared, ever-energetic guitarist Jimmy Smith channeled those energies into his bottle of beer, shaking it vigorously before releasing it, in a foaming fountain, on the stage. Not quite an ejaculating guitar. But still.
And then there was the mosh pit, going strong from the second song, and continuing – though waxing and waning – throughout. Naturally, Philippakis couldn’t resist the elemental pull of the vibrant crowd, and threw himself into its churning arms. The sturdy arms of 9:30 security helped return him to the stage just as quickly as he had left it.
And by the end, Philippakis, too, was transformed. He was no mere mortal. “Baby, you’re a star.”
The Naked and Famous
Anyway, it’s their universe, and we were fortunate enough to be allowed to visit it. It was a universe, though, that was strangely out of sync with the worlds inhabited by the two opening bands. The first band, New Zealand’s “The Naked and Famous,” was great fun. Their following was strong enough that the club was nearly packed when they took the stage at 9:00. (A full club for an opening band is a rare occurrence in hipster-land. But there it was.)
The second band, Freelance Whales, shared a few musical traits with Foals. But these shared straits were mostly superficial. Their energy came from another place: neither from the depths of the ocean nor from the heart of the earth, but from, perhaps, a happy beach on a sunny day. Lead singer Judah Dadone sounds a bit like a cross between Death Cab’s Ben Gibbord and Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon. The band was at its best when it left the beach and featured more melodic harmonizations between Dadone and band member Doris Cellar (though the many enthusiastic Whale fans in the audience would most certainly take issue with this assessment), the drummer striking an amazing sounding kit. Front and center in nearly all of their “do-not-call-them-multi-instrumental” (though they are) songs, a glockenspiel rang out. Now, as a former glock player myself, I have nothing against the instruments. Especially when used on football fields. In contained concert venues, however, their more annoying features become apparent. Dear Whales: when you do make your next recording, please leave the glock buried in the sand. Or at least keep it off the tour bus.
But then Foals took the stage. The bells reverberating in my head were quickly muted. And I was instead happily possessed by the sound and the fury. What did it signify? Be sure to catch Foals when they’re live near you. Only you can answer the question – and you can only answer it after you’ve seen them live.
In short: pick a universe. The 9:30 had you covered on Friday night.
All photos by Derek.
Click on any of the images above to see the rest of the photos from the show. All