Oxford, England’s Foals have transformed over the course of the last decade, starting off with angular math rock on their 2008 debut album Antidotes, but slowly shedding the more esoteric parts of their initial sound over the course of the next two albums to take on a more streamlined, arena-friendly sound. While for many bands this kind of transition would have been a death-knell for credibility, Foals have seemed to grow into it naturally and without compromise. 2010’s Total Life Forever saw the beginning of the transition, shedding much of the raw dance-punk of their debut for a more subdued, post-punk style. 2013’s Holy Fire took that sound and extended it, adding the bombast and expansiveness of a band looking to fill the air in much larger spaces. With this year’s What Went Down, the band has fully matured into their sound, displaying a confidence which has brought back some of the edge of their earlier days while still forging ahead. On Wednesday evening, the band brought their tour for this latest album to DC, for a sold-out show at the Lincoln Theatre.
The band opened the night with “Snake Oil,” a grooving number from the middle of the new album, and followed it with what is probably the best known track from the release, “Mountain At My Gates” (a track which made it to number 14 on Billboard’s US Alternative charts, and is featured in the soundtrack of the FIFA 16 video game). It wasn’t all new material for the night, though, as the band next looked back to Antidotes with “Olympic Airways.” In all, the band focused largely on recent material, with six of the fourteen tracks drawn from What Went Down and another four drawn from Holy Fire. Total Life Forever was represented only by “Spanish Sahara,” while “Red Socks Pugie” also made an appearance in the main set from Antidotes.
If there was one letdown to the event, it was the choice of venue. The Lincoln Theatre is a great space, and DC is lucky to have it, but it’s not the best for high-energy rock shows. The entire audience stood, and fans crowded the aisles throughout the set, but there was still a noticeable drain on the vitality of the show caused by having everyone trapped in rows of seats. Even the band commented, with frontman Yannis Philippakis lamenting “I want to get nasty, but these chairs are in the way” before the band launched into their sixth song of the night, “Providence.” Instead of his usual crowd surfing, Phillippakis settled for a walk through the audience playing his guitar, up one aisle and down the other. To all but those around him, he was lost in darkness for the duration.
Still, the band made the best of it and gave the audience their all, never letting up on the energy on the stage throughout their hour and a half long set. If their interactions with the audience were somewhat stifled by the situation, they made up for it with a lively stage presence. They closed the night with a three song encore, with “London Thunder” and the title track representing the new from What Went Down, and a finale of “Two Steps, Twice” from Antidotes representing the past.