Openers: Kiev and Bear Hands
November 1st, 2016 at House of Blues Boston
By: Kara Kokinos
Two openers at the House of Blues can be brutal on an audience, and sadly Foals fell right into that pithole. Both openers could have easily headlined their own small room shows, and their sets felt fully fleshed out, but this also lead them to feel completely independent from each other.
Kiev kicked off the night on a high note, with a smooth indie rock sound that is reminiscent of the Black Keys or even Foals themselves. While I found their album Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth rather lackluster, I enjoyed almost all of their material in a live setting. Their choices catered well to each band member’s prowess – the multi-instrumentalist trumpet player and keyboardist gave a lot of definition to the band’s sound, grounded by a constantly locked in bassist and drummer. Their song “Be Gone Dull Cage,” which was featured on The Walking Dead, was anchored by keys and definitely was the strongest of the set. Often times the guitarist’s pedals placed him further back, floating above the mix and letting the vocalist take the spotlight. The one criticism I had of their set was the singer’s jarring, pre-recorded background vocals – the mixing was so different from his live voice that it was distracting and took away from the atmosphere that the band created well otherwise. Despite this, Kiev functioned as a perfect opener for Foals; they were cohesive enough to set the mood, but clearly not drawing primary influence from the band.
Bear Hands was a definite change of pace for the night, but again I found the band’s live sound preferable to their recorded material. I would have loved to hear this set on another night, but as an introduction to Foals it seemed incredibly out of place. That being said, I actually enjoyed the songs best that were a total sonic departure from the rest of the show, especially those featuring the keyboard and synth pad laying down the majority of the harmonic content. The band did experiment with guitar leads as well, trading off descending lines across guitars that had completely different tonalities. These were found on their songs “Bone Digger” and “Like Me Like That” which brought the highest energy overall, but sadly, even with all four instrumentalists in harmony, the band’s sound still didn’t hit as hard as I wanted it to. Everyone in the crowd was incredibly excited to hear “Giants,” but I’d never heard a band who was more miserable to play their number one hit. The singer’s vocal phrases were cut surprisingly short considering the amount of breath control he had demonstrated throughout the night, and the energy that the band brought clearly decreased as soon as the song began. The crowd didn’t seem to mind or even notice this shift, their voices carried Bear Hands through to the end of the song, and the band picked up their energy afterwards to close out with a hard-hitting rendition of “2AM.”
Foals released their first hit “Hummer” in 2007, but the band is currently in its eleventh year and still going strong with four albums under their belt. Each album is a sonic journey, cohesive and fully formed, and the band does not go through the growing pains often found from artists transitioning between genres. Even when utilizing different musical techniques in a single song or album, there is no struggle. Though they are typically labeled “indie rock,” it does a disservice to the band – Foals do not transcribe to most of the genre’s expectations or even that of the subgenres they tend to be placed in next, art or math rock. There are elements of almost every kind of rock found on a single Foals album – sometimes even in a single song. Despite this, every album has a sonic signature that is particular to the release. The amount of success they’ve received, and even the reception of Foal’s live show, is a testament to their songwriting. The band has won the Q Award and been nominated twice by NME for Best Live Act, and as this was my first time seeing Foals, I had high standards that they just didn’t live up to.
Four months straight of touring had taken its toll on all of the band, as even notoriously energetic lead singer Yannis Philippakis seemed to be lacking the energy that has set them apart from other artists in the past. The singer is known for going into the crowd, and this performance was no exception, but even this felt like going through the motions. Phillippakis & Co. still controlled the crowd just as well as ever, but this spoke more to their musicality than any other performance aspects. The band’s movements were minimal, as they primarily let their sound and light show wash over the crowd and create an almost transcendental state. Unfortunately, I was unable to become fully immersed, as I was stuck next to the only members of the audience who did not understand that Foals is not a band to mosh wildly to for an entire set. While there were certainly moments that called for it, “Spanish Sahara” certainly does not fall under that category.
Showmanship aside, there was absolutely nothing to complain about when it came to the sonic elements of the night. Every track sounded the same, if not better than, the recorded version, and each member of the band executed their individual role spectacularly. Yannis’ mastery of vocals and guitar shined through spectacularly on “Give It All.” The setlist felt slightly disjointed to me, which may have been the result of listening to Foals’ catalog album by album versus sitting down with all of the individual hits. This feeling was especially evident as Foals closed out the last portion of their main set with an adorable, yet slightly melancholic dedication of “Late Night” to the band’s mothers, followed by encouragement for everyone to get crazy to “Inhaler.” My reaction to hearing these songs speaks to the band’s ability to craft a standalone album; it was unsettling to hear tracks from the same LP out of order. Despite a slightly lackluster performance this time around, I would not hesitate to go see Foals again – I genuinely believe that they’re one of the most talented bands today, making complex yet accessible music – and would advocate that everyone should see them in order to hear the full range of sounds this band is capable of.