There’s been a spectre hanging over Foals for years. Through their numerous triumphs – a headline slot at Latitude, a series of albums that rocketed them to the head of the pack, a victorious step out onto the Wembley Arena stage earlier this year – they’ve been followed by a ghost.
As they take to their headline slot at Reading 2016, there’s an unusual sense of nerves on stage. Quieter than their usual bolshy, amped up selves, even firebrand frontman Yannis Phillippakis seems reflective. There’s a crowd of tens of thousands in front of him, watching him close what was once his local festival. You’ll have to forgive the earnesty.
Theirs is a set honed across the summer – the rackety ‘Snake Oil’ opening proceedings, the thudding, four-to-the-floor bass that marks the arrival of ‘My Number, the fidgety ending to ‘Mountain At My Gates’; anyone who’s seen Foals this year might not find too many surprises on stage. But it’s all executed so flawlessly, and with such passion, that it matters squat. The addition of pyro cannons, firing darts of fire into the sky through ‘What Went Down’’s spiky call to arms, further bolsters that already fine-tuned stage show, lasers and all.
“We want to play you a song we haven’t played for a very long time,” starts Yannis towards the set’s end. “Because like we said earlier, this is the place.” He steps away from the mic, visibly choked. And then it’s let loose.
‘Cassius’ is reborn on the Reading main stage. Where previous performances might have struggled with its intricacy and sparseness, the beefed up Foals of 2016 give it a protein shake. The reaction is every bit as explosive as you’d expect – it’s been five years since Foals last played arguably their breakthrough hit at Manchester’s Warehouse Project, and the release granted to the thousands that call its name every night is palpable. Bringing it back tonight is a poignant moment – one that speaks volumes of the respect the Oxford troupe hold for their fans, and also of Foals’ willingness to nod to the long and winding path that got them here.
Foals’ headline slot at Reading Festival is every bit the defining moment it was set out to be from the start, taking the notion that we don’t breed future festival headliners and burying it in the dirt kicked up by the ravenous hordes at the front. And that spectre? It’s over.