It says something about Foals’ rise to indie-hero status that them playing the Royal Albert Hall doesn’t feel odd in the slightest. For anyone who remembers the band when they first formed in The Other Place, such a grandiose setting would’ve seemed out of step with their spikey, innovative sound. But two albums on, and their ever increasing throng of fans will tell you that Foals are a slicker package now, comfortable in their role as performers, and as fathers to the math-rock legacy now carried by Alt-J and Django Django.
It seems appropriate that whilst the rest of the band goes on for the biggest gig of their career, lead singer Yannis Philippakis stays off stage for just that few extra seconds; for he is the lifeblood of a band that can sometimes lack a little spark in performance, and his entrance signifies the genuine opening of the show. After a steady opening sequence of ‘Prelude’ and ‘Olympic Airways’, ‘My Number’ is the first real sing-along of the show, and really illustrates Foals’ strength as a live band; they may not be the most raucous of performers, but their playing is as immaculately precise as Yannis’ world-beating beard.
Despite their credentials as pop puppeteers of indie-minded marionettes, some of this show’s best moments are during the more delicate, melancholic moments. The guitar solo on ‘Late Night’ is captivating, and there is palpable sense of the audience, even those standing at the front, really listening. The glimmering centrepiece of the show and Foals’ career to date is the sublime ‘Spanish Sahara’, accompanied here by oceanic sound effects and an awestruck audience – the reaction you would expect to one of the songs of the decade. An encore version of ‘Inhaler’ has Yannis in wounded-animal vocal mode, viscerally bellowing over the swarming behemoth of a lead single; such animalistic intensity sparks one over-excited fan to attempt a shirtless crowd-surf, an unusually unrestrained sight at a Foals gig.
At one point the band talk about their belief in music as a subculture, as an opportunity to provide something otherworldly in the lives of their audience. However, we’re left wanting more from a band who seem capable of giving us such insight; in another of the frustratingly few interviews with the band, they talk about the isolation they feel, their reliance on alcohol – there’s a fascinating documentary to be made here, but this isn’t it.
As a document of a great gig, Foals –Live at the Royal Albert Hall cannot be questioned, and Foals’ status as one of the biggest bands in the country is now well and truly cemented. However, anyone hoping for more than a fleeting insight into the mind-set of performers on such a historic stage will feel that a major opportunity has been lost.