LIVE: Foals, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

unnamedFoals // Photo Credit: Jordan Portlock

By Jordan Portlock

Foals… They’re A Band

Foals returned for their second Portland show of 2013 on Monday night to a sold-out Wonder Ballroom and did not disappoint.

Low-profile Portland jammers Animal Eyes took the opening spot and earned a place on the Wonder’s stage. It had been almost two years since I had seen the band play at Backspace as the Headliner of Music In the School’s Battle of The Bands 2012 and in that period of time Animal Eyes have evolved from a “samey” sounding hipster-bar band to a modestly psychedelic wall of sound. The band was tight, professional, and memorable, even while sharing a stage with a big name band like Foals. Despite what any previous opinions I may have had about Animal Eyes as a band may have been, it is clear that they are able to hold down the fort and belong on a bigger stage than what they’ve been given thus far. With good management, a couple more distinguishable songs and some subtle taming on the part of their resident pirate captain multi-instrumentalist, I can see them easily finding success in the current indie landscape.

Now, admittedly, I have been a Foals fan since middle school. I know the words, I have the b-sides, and listening to their albums Antidotes and Total Life Forever now, I’m starting to realize that they are two of the defining albums of my high school years. Don’t mistake that for self-indulgent nostalgia because I’ve only been out of high school for two years but what I am trying to get across is that I (figuratively) wore the fuck out of those albums. Their latest, Holy Fire, is equally fantastic. Their major label debut (only advertised as such on the back cover of the CD/Vinyl or the Spotify/Rdio digital cover), packing more emotional ‘oomph’ than the two previous collections combined, has paved the way for their recent rise to buzz band status with singles like the riff-heavy “Inhaler” and borderline-guilty-pleasure catchiness of “My Number”.

So, let’s talk a little bit about “My Number”. Unarguably the band’s most popular single to date and essentially the song that caught KNRK’s eye enough to put them on a December to Remember show, It’s obvious that many people in the crowd were there for THAT SONG. So them playing it third in their set resulted in a few audible remarks to the effect of: “They’re playing this song already?” Apparently people are used to the “play the hit last” model enough for My Number’s front-loader status to be surprising. Foals seem not to care, though, as the song was obviously written for success. Chorus line, “You don’t have my number/We don’t need each other now” is the type of post 21st Century poetics that would more typically grace a Katy Perry song but Foals, with all of their locked-down funk splatting, pull it off in spades. Almost embarrassingly, I was overjoyed to be hand clapping and dancing with the 16-year-old crowd brought in off the KNRK sponsorship of the show and “My Number” itself. If any song by a cultish indie band could bring them to the forefront of the Alternative world and get a crowd going the way it did Monday, they’d be lucky to have it be as solid as “My Number”.

The set itself was somewhat less remarkable than their headlining set at the Crystal Ballroom earlier this year. Notable was the absence of live staples like “Total Life Forever” and the 10 minute live freakout of “Electric Bloom” and a slight sense of fatigue from the band. Frontman Yannis Philippakis did confess to the band having just flown in and feeling jet lagged, but I suspect that the band’s nonstop touring cycle this year would also be a contributor to any weariness.

About halfway through the (relatively short) set is when things began to pick up, starting with the epic climax of Holy Fire standout, “Late Night”. Moving into the track “Providence” which can only truly be experienced in a live atmosphere and is probably better suited for festivals, the band and the crowd loosened up and took off with blistering false-endings and a heavy prolonged jam which has now become traditional at the end of Antidotes track, “Red Socks Pugie”.

The main set ended here and after a short respite the band returned for the best two songs of the night and easily two of the best songs in Foals’ catalogue: “Inhaler” and “Two Steps, Twice” This one two punch is what I walked out of the show remembering. The fuzzed out roar that marks the chorus of “Inhaler” started the first true moshing of the night. I’ll admit partial responsibility for this but I was far from the only audience member up for it. At this point the casual fans were brushed to the side and the die-hards took over the floor.

I don’t think I ever want to see a Foals show where they don’t finish their set with “Two Steps, Twice”. It is one of the only remaining aspects of the band’s set that resembles their “mathy” roots and remains one of their most exciting songs live. It’s where the set explodes, leaving behind the scattered remains of the night. It’s a tribute to the bands more invested fans which serves as a perfect closer.

Where Foals go from here is anybody’s guess. They’re to the point where they are relatively mainstream for a band of their stature but seem to be smart enough to really do what they want. They’ve proved that they can pack venues like the Crystal Ballroom and Wonder Ballroom  and put on an actual show (as opposed to just playing through the songs) so I’d suppose the future is their’s if they want it and are willing to play the game. They still have a long way to go if they really want to go big but the foundation is there. Let’s just hope we don’t lose their number along the way.

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