It’s been nearly six years since Oxford, England band Foals took home the Q Award for Best Live Act, and four since they were given the same award, but this time as Best Act in the World. Their sold out show at the 9:30 Club last night was a clear indication that should the band be up for those honors in 2019, they’re still every bit as deserving.
Though the band saw the departure of their former bassist Walter Gervers in the process of recording Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost Pts. 1 & 2, even with this lineup change their sound is as tight as ever. Foals opened with Part 1 single “On the Luna,” whose live iteration is surprisingly tamer than expected. Their stage is flanked by palm trees, perhaps a nod to the tropical sound that’s always weaved its way through their music. At times when the band rips through more anxious songs like “Exits” or “Inhaler,” it evokes a feeling of dystopia.
Still, Foals has energy in spades. They’re now the proud creators of five albums, with one more on the way (Part 2 is out later this year), but they’ve pieced together a setlist of songs new and old to engage concertgoers regardless of devotion level. This is a lost art when it comes to bands who have been at it as long as Foals, as it often skews toward shoving the new material at everyone or kowtowing to playing only the classics. When they opt to melt older songs like “Olympic Airways” into an absolute banger of a more accessible hit like “My Number” with an incredible drum solo courtesy of Jack Bevan, you immediately know there is incredible care put into everything this band does.
Even during a slow burn like “Spanish Sahara,” they avoid the dreaded treatment of a less peppy song as a seventh inning stretch. Even as bodies wander to the bar, fans start clapping, transfixed, and people return to their spots. They’ve been commanded not just by the band but the spell they’ve cast on those in the crowd, and for good reason – “Spanish Sahara” just happens to be one of their best songs.
And I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that, during the encore consisting of “Two Steps, Twice,” frontman Yannis Philippakis leapt from the Club’s second story balcony into the arms of a waiting crowd. The person standing next to me grabbed my shoulder in disbelief as she reached her other arm towards him. At a time when shows can seem a tad bit clinical, there’s nothing like a full on trust fall into a sea of fans to restore your faith in the art of the live show. Even if the leap happens every night, at every show, it still feels new and urgent.
Foals could easily fill a larger venue like The Anthem – past DC stops saw them at higher capacity outposts like the more formal, seated Lincoln Theatre, and the EDM-adjacent Echostage – but their specific brand of marrying the best elements of punk, math rock and tropicalia is tailor-made for a hallowed place like the 9:30 Club. They’re better off packing in hordes of hungry fans into smaller places, an apparent strategy on this tour, than forcing themselves to be something they are not in a larger location for the sake of selling more tickets.
They know who they are, and they’ve said it best themselves. Take the Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost standout “Syrups,” in which Philippakis sings “‘cause life is what you make it/you’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.” They’ve always had a strong sense of identity, but now they’re making sure we know who they are, too.
Sure, Foals could have changed and eschewed their niche sound just for the sake of it. But why do that when you can be true to what’s cemented you as one of the most exciting acts of the past 15 years, especially when it means you can leap from the balcony of one of the most iconic venues in the world?
Don’t sleep on your second chance to see Foals at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, April 18. Tickets are $38.50 and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the band, visit www.foals.co.uk.
9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com