Live Review

Foals, Academy 2, Oxford

There is little doubt that Foals are now an arena-sized band.

“It’s been a while since we played Oxford.”

Enigmatic as ever, Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis is addressing a 400-strong throng of staunch local supporters. Many had queued at the Academy’s box office since 6am that morning to secure tickets for this, their first hometown show in four years, in a venue four percent the size of what they’ll play two weeks from now. “I’m glad it’s in this stinky sweatbox with you”.

Announced just 36 hours prior to stage time, special doesn’t begin to cover tonight’s return to the band’s old haunt. Taking to the stage amongst guitarist Jimmy Smith’s tantalising twinkling in opener ‘Prelude’, the band erupt into a brisk one-two of ‘Total Life Forever’ and ‘My Number’, deftly chronicling their meteoric rise since they left the confines of Oxford’s dreaming spires. “I’ve been around two times and found that you’re the only thing I need” murmurs Yannis on a hushed ‘Milk & Black Spiders’, the song taking on a new life as a love letter to the band’s estranged hometown.

Two hundred metres down the road, a free gig which the unlucky ticketless in the pub next door are sardonically referring to as ‘The Gig’ kicks off at the East Oxford Community Centre – one of the many local venues that have flourished in the wake of Foals’ nourishing impact on Oxford’s music scene. But tonight, the focus is off the oft-lauded intricacies of the local scene, and solely on its most prolific recent success story.

There is little doubt that Foals are now an arena-sized band. Tonight they sound gargantuan, the diminutive stage of the Academy 2 granting the quintet the urgency and concentration of a band anxious to hit the colossal platforms the month ahead holds for them. Slow burners ‘Late Night’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ seem fit to burst with the weight of their ebb-and-flow, while the riff-fuelled swagger of ‘Miami’ is more befitting to a warehouse dance party than the intimacy of tonight’s surroundings, with drummer Jack Bevan a powerhouse of breakbeats and off-kilter intricacies. That said, there’s no doubting the reverence tonight holds in the minds of its mob.
“This is fucking sweet. Every single one of these songs, we wrote them in Oxford,” enthuses Yannis to a frenzied response, before a ferocious rendition of festival hit ‘Inhaler’ brings the set to a close. Returning after the inevitable encore, the band revisit their prior outings upon this stage with the first UK performance of ‘Hummer’ since 2010. Spasmodic and frantic, these are the riffs they cut their teeth on amongst these very walls.

The predictable cries for ‘Cassius’ are met with a smile and a cursory “not gonna happen”, before an explosive ‘Two Steps, Twice’ plays host to another of Yannis’ trademark crowdsurfs – this time off the corner of the bar at the side of the room. Leaving the stage and taking their next steps towards the ten-thousand capacity Alexandra Palace shows in a fortnight’s time, tonight’s hark back to the early days proved one inexorable truth; Foals were destined for arenas.

Tags: Foals, Features

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