Venue: KL Live, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Date: 4th March 2014
Promoter: Freeform Sdn Bhd
Review by: Fadhil R.
Special Thanks: Miriam, and the Freeform team
You never know what to expect or have a clue of what’s going to happen when it comes to a venue like KL Live as you step into the ‘clear air’ zone. As much info as I can gather, Foals have never failed in their attempt to deliver the brilliance and excitement that always surrounds their live performances. There is much to admire on Foals’ clever funky and sexy songs throughout the years, and personally for me, ‘Holy Fire’ songs remain the strongest they’ve written.
On that Tuesday night I reminded myself that I don’t consider this a “walk in the park” kind of vibe. The fans aren’t going to be walking around the arena scared and worried like a bunch of cats in a room full of bubbles. They are going to relish this chance to further prove that Malaysian crowds are among the most badass crowds in the world when it comes to gigs like these. So, needless to say, it’s going to be extremely exciting. Those coming in their band tees, crammed in to KL Live like this was going to be a memorable gig to date. Well, I was so damn right about it. Foals now have a clear path to bomb majestic tunes and explode at the crowd’s pitiful faces for a headstart.
I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor played an excellent set in the same venue almost a year ago, and commented on the unlikeliness of their brand of post rock. Well, with Foals it is the utter likeliness of their sound that one first notices. Bursting into “Total Life Forever” after a short prelude, the five players did a credible impersonation of a synth-poppin’ wall of sound, no frills, just great indie rock song craft with tension, release, and then some more release after that. They’ve adapted themselves to fill spaces like this, and it shows: material that fell a little short of their standards on Total Life Forever album nonetheless slayed with the addition of a little bit of live muscle and a blinding array of strobe lights.
The band was commanding from start to finish especially when it comes to songs like “Olympic Airways” and “Blue Blood”. They are certainly by then at ease and no doubt cemented their position in the heart of the crowd. On paper, many would have expected the band to sweep aside a cold atmosphere in the venue itself. Yannis’ showmanship wasn’t as flattering. He was convincing. The British lads were in decent form, showing no signs of rust and keeping the crowd angsty and crazy at the same time, not just for the opening, but for much of the whole set. On one hand, there’s so much to admire and analyze. “My Number” brought the biggest response of the night, with the crowd singalong rendering Yannis Phillippakis’ chorus vocal redundant, and rendering my eardrums a little raw. Foals aren’t the sort of band that ration out the crowd-pleasing choruses, though. Almost every song felt like a highlight, the stakes and the euphoria rising ever higher.
In the midst of pushing and shoving in the crowd with “Red Socks Pugie”, there standing is a man who was credited with playing in a higher state of emotion, representing himself as pure ecstasy. He handles his guitar with an extrovert virtuosity that borders on the supremacy. The lyrics he sang are penetrating and instead you can have endless fun listening to the whole band just by lying on the ground, wasted. Frontman Yannis’ deadpan ability to highlight the sinister in some of the songs they’ve played reminds me of Matt Bellamy of Muse. The rhythms are also rather beautiful and immersive, as heard live in songs like “Spanish Sahara” and “Late Night”. Both songs tugged at the emotions, but were strangely uplifting, surging and swelling like we were all looking at stars in the night sky being aligned. Close your eyes to “Milk & Black Spiders” and you could picture yourself getting high on triangles in super slow motion. I might exaggerate on that one but a gig is supposed to be you getting caught in a Bermuda triangle, so yeah.
Dressed down in a sleeveless shirt and jeans and messy hair, frontman and chief driving force Yannis had this look of a fellow who’d just shout at anyone if no one is moving to the beat. Fortunately, he appeared a pleasant grounded young man almost to the point of frustrating timidness. What fire there was in his belly flickered when he strum his guitar hard enough during songs like “Providence” and “Inhaler’, but generally diverted into his impassioned singing. The only crowd interaction was when Yannis decided not to hide his enjoyment and tried to crowdsurf onto the front crowd, but failed terribly. Despite all that, those two mentioned songs wore me down with an unending barrage of bespoke heavy tunes that are as dumb as they are smart, swinging big, sticky hooks around like a game of Flappy Birds in a blind rage. On a side note, what a beautiful man Yannis is.
Every gig we all stand by for something special from a band sometimes never came. It’s either a crazy antic or an unreleased song being played live. I’m not a complicated man. You want to impress me? Roll yourself on the ground and blast me with strobes. Be impeccably dressed, and exude Britishness through every pore. Suffice to say, Foals impressed me; and judging by the decibel-happy screaming and the mile-wide grins that filled KL Live, I wasn’t alone. The venue was unmistakably below capacity, but those present witnessed a band that was on their game in a serious way. Like I said, almost every song felt like a highlight and I just have to repeat that phrase twice. I can name a few moments that caught me off-guard and suddenly I was in not only one, but two moshpits merging together. Moments like that have to be kept in a bottle and break it whenever my emotions run high.
The sonic mix was heavy on the synth rock, but they still managed to tease out the latent funk, poppish and Bloc Party influences that they’ve assimilated over the journey. Unexpectedly, the encore featured the segment of “Two Steps Twice”, from debut album Antidotes, as if to remind all present just how many demarcations of taste and genre that Foals have smashed in their strange, wonderful career so far. Out front, Walter Gerves on the bass with that gentle, mellow back up voice of his, frequently mounting the speakers and never, ever missing a note. Yannis’ final act however was a venue-spanning victory lap, climbing onto the right speaker of the stage at one point to offer his gratitude, while his band vamped on “Hummer” for the encore. Bloody hell.
By the end, everyone was fidgety for Foals’ one truly great song. Appropriation of an unused song that wasn’t played previously in Singapore, “Balloons”, was heartfelt by die-hard fans at that moment – but live, it was stirring and mournful and momentous. I hummed to the tune all the way back to my hometown. And all this after a MONSTER CAT support slot that threatened to steal the show. As good as they were, they’re still in the process of finding the crowd’s feet in these sorts of venues. Their perpetual-motion performance style is pretty much there, but their gliding sentimental tunes needs to develop a little more of a dynamic sweep. Or they could, you know, continue to be an absolute first-rate, dancefloor-filling live friendly makeover. Either or, I suppose. Again, no big deal in the broader scheme of things.
If there was a complaint from Foals set, it was the skimpy servings of early material – everything was drawn from Total Life Forever and Antidotes, save for “Cassius”, “Miami”, and fragments of “Alabaster” and “Heavy Water”. Still it was their latter-day success that paid for Foals’s flights so why not make use of one’s divine ability to make a crowd go absolutely bananas?