Tonight’s support Yak specialise in excess. Their latest album Pursuit of Momentary Happiness is a study in kissing the edges, not just in its execution but in how it sparked to life from the perilous existence of frontman Oli Burslem during its conception. Ending up penniless, living out of the back of a Citroen estate having spunked your advance then ending up with nothing to show for it could never be seen as the recommended route to classic album status, yet somehow Pursuit of Momentary Happiness would not be the artefact it is without this bizarre back story. Despite leading off with Heavens Above from Yak’s Alas, Salvation era, tonight’s shortened set is sensibly centred on the strongest of the material from the new album.
“Oli Burslem on stage is a literal rock star archetype. Dressed in white linen, his performance is borne almost from an apparent compulsion to create music.”
Fittingly, Oli Burslem on stage is a literal rock star archetype. Dressed in white linen, his performance is borne almost from an apparent compulsion to create music. Throughout the set he is restless, swapping microphones, soloing, triggering a variety of electronic gizmos and playing keyboards and guitar simultaneously. His stage presence something to behold but stays controlled despite all the apparent attention-deficit.
On White Male Carnivore Burslem pulls riffs and melodies out of what is essentially a song based around one chord. There are other bands who have mastered this over the years – Spacemen 3 and more recently Fontaines DC are also exponents – but done well, the effect is hypnotic and mesmerising. Burslem applies the sheen over the incessant rumble of Vincent Davies’ bass guitar, the singer complaining of his “low pain threshold” while laying on the irony of the subject matter with a lyrical trowel. “He’s got the whole world in his hands!” screams Burslem throughout the song’s coda, as if an explosive device is about to be triggered.
Disappointingly, Yak’s slot is beset by sound problems which worsen during a valiant attempt at Bellyache which ends farcically in squalls of microphone feedback so bad that the audience can’t even hear Burslem’s attempted explanation as to why the band need to leave the stage. To their credit, given a few minutes’ intermission Yak are back; loosening up into psych-gospel ballad Words Fail Me as if the inconvenience has done nothing but fire them up even further.
“As the support set ends, Yak wring every last epic note out of the song. It feels like a crime that they have to leave the stage after such a short time and such an incendiary show.”
It’s Blinded by the Lies that scales the greatest heights of the night though. Davies’ math-bass riff seems off kilter to begin with, before Burslem’s guitar work begins to bring it all into focus. The chorus sees the band at their strutting best, drummer Elliot Rawson committing a rhythmic assault on his kit. “Were you looking for some fame, like a moth to a flame?” enquires Burslem, with arch introspection. As the support set ends, Yak wring every last epic note out of the song. It feels like a crime that they have to leave the stage after such a short time and such an incendiary show.
Foals were making their Bournemouth return in a perhaps unique position of touring the first instalment of their two-part project Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost; with the tantalising prospect of a further collection of tunes still to come, currently scheduled for autumn release.
“Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 has heralded a distillation of Foals’ strengths; setting a political tone lyrically over an eclectic set of musical masterpieces which perfectly signify the chaotic modern age that the band want to document.”
The band have never possessed anything less than a strong live set, impeccably performed. But Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost has seen them at something of a conceptual crossroads, written and recorded against the backdrop of founder member Walter Gervers’ departure. After the water-tread of previous album What Went Down, which only really soared once it hit their arena performances, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 has heralded a distillation of Foals’ strengths; setting a political tone lyrically over an eclectic set of musical masterpieces which perfectly signify the chaotic modern age that the band want to document. Bands of Foals’ stature can’t help but preach to the converted, but there are plenty of those here in Bournemouth despite the loss of some to their Glastonbury travel plans – and there is an edgy crackle to the pre-set audience chatter.
Guitarist Jimmy Smith is no stranger to launching the band’s live sets and it is his scratched chords that launch the band into the no-nonsense thump of On The Luna, a starting gun for the party. The strength of the new material is to Foals’ advantage, giving them permission to install it as the bedrock of the night without in any way diminishing the energy and engagement of their audience between the old favourites.
The setlist is beautifully balanced between new material and career highlights from the early albums. Red Socks Pugie sounds as crystalline as the day those first eccentric math-pop sounds tiptoed out of Oxford. Spanish Sahara, the song that first announced Foals as a behemoth to be reckoned with, is there mid-set, right where it belongs. My Number takes the night from an early summit and lifts off like a helium balloon on a string, propelled skywards by Edwin Congreave’s soaring keyboard washes; while the gossamer harmonics of Jimmy Smith’s guitar drape themselves across the band’s rendition of Olympic Airways.
“[Yannis] Philippakis is in extraordinary form. His voice is in utterly commanding shape across the entire 18 song set; by turns seductive, weary, rasping, furious.”
Yannis Philippakis alludes to the band’s original Bournemouth performance down the road at Sixty Million Postcards. You wonder if the frontman ever believed that he would return in such glorified circumstances as this. There is genuine humility in the way the bearded singer puffs out his cheeks momentarily to take it all in. Philippakis is in extraordinary form. His voice is in utterly commanding shape across the entire 18 song set; by turns seductive, weary, rasping, furious.
New tracks Sunday and Syrups show Foals at their newly liberated best, exploring multiple personalities within the same song. Sunday’s double-time breakdown is an exhilarating exercise in no-letting-up, a joyous and life-affirming moment, whether on record or, as tonight, flowing from an arena sound system. In Degrees takes four-to-the-floor disco and sprinkles magical electronic riffs and samba percussion all over it, while lead single Exits is a perfect state-of-the-nation exposition of carefully conceived clatter. No holds barred.
The band’s decision to invite Jeremy Pritchard to reprise Gervers earlier work is vindicated; the lanky Everything Everything bass player slots in perfectly, like he has always belonged. Foals deserve credit for having the wisdom to bring a friend into the fold rather than a session player; someone who truly gets it. His recreations of the old songs are carbon-copy, his performances of the new material nailed confidently to the wall with a flourish. Hopefully he will come back to tour again.
Meanwhile, Philippakis has added supreme showmanship to his qualities as a guitarist over the course of the band’s career. He has evolved into a conductor as much as a frontman. Take your eyes off him for a moment and he is postulating to the front row, surfing the crowd with his trademark Travis Bean or rivalling for attention with drummer Jack Bevan behind his kit. Yannis introduces one unreleased song, Black Bull, to kick off the encore. It’s a magma scorcher that melts the place, enticing fans towards the next instalment of the Everything Not Saved project.
“During Providence … maelstroms turn to morasses as the song’s drops build and break, like waves on a shore; fallen fans lifted to their feet when they risk being swept away by the tide.”
The band’s relationship with their live audience has deepened across the course of their journey together, as has members of Foals’ audience with each other. During Providence, from the band’s 2013 breakthrough album Holy Fire, maelstroms turn to morasses as the song’s drops build and break, like waves on a shore; fallen fans lifted to their feet when they risk being swept away by the tide. The band reprise the finale, arriving unexpectedly to wipe out anyone still trying to ride the tsunami. Late on, Yannis tells the crowd to hunker down. “It’ll be worth it,” he promises. Inhaler leaves the band needing a breather, while its partner-in-noise What Went Down is the penultimate belter of the night.
As the set nears its end, the breadth of Foals’ canon becomes apparent. There will be no Blue Blood, Milk and Black Spiders, Balloons, Electric Bloom: all past highlights of the band’s live set, abandoned along the way amid the sheer embarrassment of riches at Foals’ disposal. Antidotes talisman Two Steps, Twice is all we have left. And what a parting gift it is.
“I have two words for you,” offers an exultant Yannis as the crowd begin to contemplate the sticky summer night outside.
On the Luna; Mountain at My Gates; Snake Oil; Olympic Airways; My Number; Black Gold; Sunday; Syrups; Providence; Spanish Sahara; Red Socks Pugie; Exits; In Degrees; White Onions; Inhaler; Black Bull; What Went Down; Two Steps, Twice.