When Foals announced their return in October it was met with many a huge sigh of relief. Not least because of the current dearth of genuinely innovative guitar bands doing the rounds. While little was known about the new record other than its title ('Holy Fire') and that Alan Moulder and Flood would be sharing production and engineering duties, the fact they'd spent pretty much the whole of 2012 working on the album suggested the band were taking things lightly. Whereas debut long player 'Antidotes' exemplified a band rich in promise but just falling short as far as originality or song craft was concerned, its successor 'Total Life Forever' heralded their arrival as a force to be reckoned with in spectacular style. Mixing dreamy ambient overtures with a textured grace and beauty not witnessed from a home-grown outfit in years, its status as one of the 21st Century's classic records fully assured (and richly deserved), while also ensuring their music is destined to fill arena sized venues for the foreseeable future.
It's to their credit then that rather than simply head for the vacuous 02 caverns they could quite easily fill without having any new material to promote, Foals have taken the back-to-basics approach to launch 'Holy Fire'. Indeed, having started out as a band more akin to playing intimate club nights and house parties it's pretty apt they should mark their return by way of a tour in venues a band of their standing had far outgrown years ago.
Beforehand, Petite Noir led by Cape Town based frontman Yannick Ilunga play an energetic and well-received set eerily reminiscent of the embryonic Foals. Straddling the line between elegant dubstep and discordant electronica, 'Till We Ghosts' is the sound of TV On The Radio as reinvented by Kwes while Ilunga announces the as-yet untitled penultimate number as "a new one", which could be applied to the majority of the set bearing in mind this is Petite Noir's first full nationwide venture. However, as with fellow exponents in the art of cross-genre fusion such as the aforementioned TVOTR or Animal Collective, Petite Noir are a compelling anomaly whose progress looks imminent. File under "ones to watch".
When Foals do take the stage it's a little surprising that The Venue isn't bursting at the seams. Having completely sold out almost immediately after announcing the show, the room is busy but comfortable and therefore accessible vantage points are easy to come by. Interestingly, Foals only play four new compositions during this evening's eleven-song plus two in the encore set. The opener entitled 'Prelude' which doesn't feature on 'Holy Fire' taking the form of an instrumental jam sitting somewhere between the experimental nuances of Can and Nile Rodgers more incisive guitar licks. Of the other three new songs aired this evening, 'Inhaler' which opens the encore having already created a stir when released as a free download last month, it's the resiliently funky 'My Number' that steals the show. Whereas penultimate number 'Providence' could have easily slotted onto the tail end of 'Total Life Forever', 'My Number' bumps and grinds like a lost Chic demo as reinterpreted by the DFA stable. While 'Inhaler' may be taking the plaudits at present, expect this infectious grower to be a dancefloor staple at any club night worth its salt come the end of 2013.
The rest of the set is divided between material from both of Foals previous long players. What does become apparent as a result are the significant steps the band has made both from a musical and songwriting perspective. Early single 'Balloons' may have been one of the standouts off debut 'Antidotes', but here it stands out as by far the weakest song in the set. However, that aside the other first album material aired here fits like a glove with Foals current vision simply because they've taken a life of their own and grown along with the band. 'Red Socks Pugie' now gallops along frantically whereas before it simply seemed to exist as little more than filler, 'Olympic Airways' bonding the visionary 'Total Life Forever' together with the new found glory of 'My Number' while set closer 'Electric Bloom' is simply huge this evening.
As for the songs lifted off their second record, there's little to say about 'Spanish Sahara' that hasn't been repeated umpteen times other than to reiterate its magnificence as one of THE songs of its generation. Likewise the jubilant strains of 'Miami' and repetitive cognisance of 'Blue Blood', both firmly underlining that record's impact and importance on Foals status in the grand scheme of things.
As Yannis Philippakis stage dives one last time head first into the crowd during a closing 'Two Steps, Twice', it's evident for all to see that Foals are bracing themselves for a spectacular year ahead, as if this was only meant to be a warm-up, by the time March's tour in support of 'Holy Fire' comes around they'll be an immeasurable force to be reckoned with proudly on top of their game.
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