Foals, the Oxford-bred hard-math-rock band, played at Denver's Ogden Theatre last night, the 26th date on a closely stacked tour of nearly nightly shows. While the performance was heartfelt and genuine, fans at last night's show experienced a somewhat subdued show in comparison to the heavy intensity that has become synonymous with Foals' live shows. The Ogden performance was as brilliant as it was confusing: For a band that has shown an aptitude for structure and precision, the show was disjointed, feverish and sometimes hard to follow.
Foals opened its set with a rather forgettable version of "Snake Oil." The exception was drummer Jack Bevan, who murdered the performance. Commenting on Bevan's breakneck speed, an onlooker said, "You see that? He's giving me anxiety." The opener was followed by the tried-and-true "Olympic Airways" and lad-rock-style "My Number," with the music initially on the underwhelming side. The first four songs were technically great but lacked soul.
It wasn't until the macabre "Give It All" that concerns about whether the Ogden would witness a truly convincing Foals performance subsided. It was surprising to find the more absolute, slightly scary version of lead singer Yannis Philippakis within the down-tempo, murky howls. That mood is reflected on the band's most recent album, What Went Down, which maintains its signature plucky acoustic and fractured percussive style and continues the danceability of Holy Fire, but escalates it all in a darker, give-less-of-a-fuck way.
After the satisfying aggression of "Mountain at My Gates," the band pulled back again, oddly placing the conclusively somber "AKIO" in the middle of the set, then began a foray into an extended, abstract, Pink Floyd-like jam session.
Returning to fractured structure with "Spanish Sahara," the lighting (which had felt almost distractingly amateurish until this point) diffused into a static red flood as all five members turned from their respective positions toward center stage. Forming a close circle and focusing on one another with subtle drums, only slightly increased tempo and pitch playing, the members appeared momentarily untouchable and tribal.
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"Spanish Sahara" marked a turning point in the energy, commitment and participation of the performance. Although meandering again between aggressive and then sad lyrical pastures, by that point Philippakis and company had achieved an ethereal performance.
Foals didn't leave the crowd high and dry, instead ending with a surprisingly energetic encore featuring an extended version of "Two Steps Twice." Probably the most tired band to ever deliver with such total commitment to technical perfection and, in lead guitarist Jimmy Smith's case, stay upright.
Smith seemed worryingly exhausted at times, though he still absolutely killed it, with the exception of one pretty heartbreaking delay in high fret tempo. At that point, Philippakis moved toward Smith and stayed face to face with him until he recovered. As the only obvious technical flaw, it proved to be one of the most intimate moments of the entire show. Ultimately, the disjointed set told its own story: five bandmates who shared something more intimate than their song lyrics with the Ogden audience. It was IRL support, brotherly love and loyalty that ended up saving what could have been a bit of a 'meh' show. Set List:
Give It All
Mountain at My Gates
Red Rox Pugie
What Went Down
Two Steps Twice