“Listen to Foals – Spanish Sahara.” That was the text message I received several months ago, late at night, completely out of the blue, and from a friend I hadn’t been in touch with for ages. I listened, and then I listened again, hitting reload on the YouTube video and turning the volume up a little more each time.
I’m a sucker for the kind of slow build, shoegaze jam that UK-based Foals pull off on “Spanish Sahara,” so of course I’ve gotten to know the song’s parent album, Total Life Forever. But when Foals took the stage at the Casbah Thursday night, I realized I had a lot to learn about the band. They pulled out a dance-rock repertoire from debut album Antidotes that was completely unknown to me. While Total Life Forever is a chill pop album with an 80’s funk undercurrent, pairing well with Yeasayer or Wild Beasts, Antidotes‘ tracks are more of the British dance-punk vein, a bit like Editors. I was expecting to prop myself up against a wall and maybe break out my signature eyes-closed, introspective head-bob maneuver, but Foals brought a dance party instead.
As it turns out, I was the only idiot in the place that was surprised. Everyone else in the sold-out crowd went buck-wild and shouted every lyric. Some Anglophile up front held a single shoe high in the air while bouncing around like a muppet. Frontman Yannis Philippakis asked if this was a pick-up bar — at first I thought he was asking the sound guy some technical question, but then I realized he was referring to the sweaty, gyrating mass of co-ed humanity up front. When Foals finally played “Spanish Sahara,” the crowd started an honest-to-God mosh pit, with random torsos bursting above the milieu and then being wrenched back and forth as if being eaten by a shark. It was quite possibly the wildest dancing I’ve ever seen at the Casbah.
Philippakis, shaggy curls draped in front of a face resembling both Jason Schwartzman and O&B writer Chris Maroulakos, never brought his left hand higher than about the 25th fret for his distinctive high-pitched, staccato guitar style. The bass guitar was noticeably tighter and funkier than on recorded tracks, and the band fed off the crowd’s energy all night. During the “Electric Bloom” call-out line of “All I see is marching bands”, Philippakis pulled up a snare drum and grabbed two sticks to illustrate. When that wasn’t enough, he waded through the audience and hopped up on the bar to play the Casbah’s stained-glass lamps like cowbells.
I walked out of there with more than a little tinnitus on my starboard side. Next time, I’ll remember to check out a band’s entire catalog so I can be a little more prepared.