Quick Concert Review: Foals

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While the weather outside is decidedly not frightful, the holiday cheer inside Washington, D.C.’s sold out Lincoln Theatre is delightful; the venue is as fully packed as Santa’s sleigh. The festive season is in full force, and this particular group of revelers has assembled to see a performance by the U.K.’s Foals.

There are some early sound issues, levels being out of whack and gauzy vocals subservient to out-of-sync instrumentation. (While the venue is operated by the folks behind 9:30 Club, its acoustics are decidedly lesser than that fabled room). Thankfully, these are mostly resolved before their splendid single, “Mountain at My Gates.” It’s always an interesting move when a band pulls out the big guns early, and it lets the assembled partisans know that the band isn’t messing around: Let’s get it on.

They move into a full-throated roar with “My Number,” the crowd showing a dispensation towards dancing as aural echoes of The Clash and Cut Copy do their dance in our heads, standing in for sugar plums. The track screams through our ears like a passing ambulance, moments offering up something of a Doppler Effect that passes into the ether, setting up the quiet, contemplative moment that characterizes the opening moments of “Spanish Sahara.”

That fan favorite is a 5+ minute rolling trip through a translucent fog; it takes over the show. The song transcends time and place, using classical musical techniques to transport the here and now into an existential whirlpool, proving the drug-like characteristics of well-crafted music.

One of the worst comparisons made is to Coldplay, which isn’t fair to either band. Foals integrates more danceability, like Two Door Cinema Club, and with visceral drumming that reminds of Bloc Party‘s initial lineup. This isn’t music for the dentist’s office: this is aggressively In. Your. Face.

The deep bass and propellant beats of “Inhaler” offer up moments of Afghan Whigs as flashing lights turn up the rock and roll vibe to 12. It’s a great way to close the set.

They exhibit an ability to blend time signature consonance and time signature dissonance in a way that highlights the educated nature of their rock. But it isn’t just math rock, and a punk rock semifinal to the encore also goes primal with slightly flat guitar pings, melodious lyrics, and rhythmic toms. And, to top it off, Yannis Philippakis does his thing, venturing into the crowd with his guitar, offering one last present to excited fans who leave loudly, taking their shared brush with greatness into the cold night air.

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Behrnsie has a love for music that dare not speak its name. He attends many shows and can often be found counting out the beats for no discernible reason. He played alto saxophone in his middle school jazz band, where he was best known for infuriating his instructor when it was revealed that he played everything by ear, and could not in fact read music. He takes great pride that this is the same talent/affliction that got Tori Amos kicked out of the Peabody Academy. He does not live in his parents’ basement….except during the holidays.