Review: Foals at Manchester Arena

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The moment Foals were announced as Reading and Leeds co-headliners, the usual murmurs of discontent bubbled up on social media.

Many hailed the announcement. A small minority cast doubt over their credentials.

Foals, it should be noted, are no strangers to headlining festivals. They have topped bills at Bestival, Latitude and Parklife. However Reading and Leeds is a different beast. A brighter, wider spotlight, it’s a step up and one that comes at the right time.

Three years ago, they may well have struggled. Now, Foals are firmly encamped in arena territory.

Their first Manchester gig was at Night and Day in 2007. “Playing to this amount of people is more than we could have ever anticipated,” a visibly moved Yannis Philippakis tells the Manchester Arena crowd.

If maths-rock set them on their course, muscle-rock has elevated them to this point.

The canvas on which they once painted those intricate sounds has been trampled on as opener “Snake oil” testifies to. Dripping with testosterone, the dirty crawling baseline slithers around Yannis’ distant, desolate vocals, wrapped up in a thunderous riff.

It’s not all brawn though. Old favourite “Olympic Airways”, as catchy as ever, leads seamlessly into the pogo pop perfection of “My Number”.

“Mountain At My Gates” is of similar ilk, hook-filled stadium-pop driven to its high-tempo climax by Jack Bevan’s explosive drumming.

The intimacy of “Give It All” lingers long in the air out-goosebumped only by “Spanish Sahara” and “Late Night”. Slow-burning sparklers, it is in these moments that Foals truly shine. The delicate, gradual build-up gently pulling the crowd in before the inevitable explosion.

There’s no spectacular light show here, no revolving stage, no 100ft video wall, no giant inflatable balls. There’s no need. The fireworks come from the five men on stage.

Hard-hitting heavyweights “Inhaler” and “What Went Down” are held back, like rabid dogs waiting to be unleashed. When that moment comes, the arena erupts. Mosh pits open like sink holes in the floor. Shoes are lost. Limbs battered.

Yannis stalks the stage, twisting and twirling to every note. Bearded and stocky, he is far from your typical-looking frontman. And yet it is impossible to take your eyes off of him.

Prone to hurling himself from balconies, he has to make do with the front barrier here. Propped up by security, the crowd surges towards him, like a scene from The Walking Dead. Clawing hands grasp and grab before he throws himself to their mercy. Once, during “What Went Down”, again in the middle of closer “Two Steps, Twice”, reworked, extended and a fitting finale.

Reading and Leeds, Foals are coming for you.