Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Show review: Foals, Freelance Whales at Metro, 4/26

Posted by Andrew Hertzberg

Freelance Whales
I guess I really had forgotten what it’s like to attend a show at the Metro for an all-ages show during a night home game for the Cubs. But a different rant for another time. Tonight was about finding out how cuddly Freelance Whales are live and rediscovering how completely ass-kicking Foals are. 

The Whales from Queens started off with the opener to their debut album Weathervanes, "Generator ^ First Floor," to get the crowd immediately swooning to the repetitive burst of ah-ah-ah-ah’s. The energy continued with non-album "Enzymes," a 5/4 pop song that’s still complete with the "oh-ahs." On record, lead singer Judah Dadone is most comparable to Sufjan Stevens or Ben Gibbard, while live he takes entirely on the delicacy of the latter. Likewise, the collective notion of the band can draw comparisons to Stars or Los Campesinos!

The set continued with endless hooks, with multiple instrument exchanges. Not to be a straight up guitar, bass, keys, and drums five-piece, four of the members guard the front of the stage, rotating between synths, bowed guitar, mandolin, banjo, an appropriately whale-crooning harmonium, and the most stylized use of the glockenspiel I’ve seen in some time. Don’t let me leave out Chuck Criss’ simultaneous playing of the glock and keys. The best moment of the set was transitioning between the hook-laden and quick lyrical verse of "Hannah" into the majestic build up in "Location." And for those concerned, the water can did make its appearance as well, I’m sure much to the chagrin of certain FW critics. But considering the group's busking background, it was nice to see such an innocuous piece of percussion continue its position in their live set. 

I had seen Foals at Lincoln Hall last fall, so I knew a bit of what I was in for. But goddamn did they exceed expectations, particularly lead singer Yannis Philippakis. I’ll get to him in a minute.

The set kicked off with "Blue Blood," the first track off their most recent album Total Life Forever from last year. The second track jumped back to their first album Antidotes with the harmonic "Olympic Airwaves," getting the floor’s collective heads bobbing and fists pumping during the chorus. The charisma (or at least pure energy) emanating from Yannis should be pointed out here. It would eventually be revealed, in true rock’n’roll fashion, that a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark was the source of his power.

The set bounced back and forth between tracks from their two albums as did the diversity of their sounds. Everything from dance-punk to no-wave, post-ska to Talking Heads funk can be included, not to mention the arenaesque post-rock buildups that conquered the middle of the set. The swing-time "Miami" directly contradicted the vague tropicalia of "Black Gold." The only real misstep was that at points they could be too excessive with their instrumental breakdowns, lulling an otherwise entirely energetic set. But that could only be thought until the end.

"Red Sox Pugie" started innocently enough, in fact almost bereft of the energy the album version contains. But oh how it picked back up.

Yannis brought the mic along with the stand and his guitar into the crowd with him. He left the mic and stand there to return to the stage to sing, his back toward the audience. After the final chorus, he fell back into the crowd. He surfed briefly, violently fighting his way back on stage, and climbed upon the stand alone guitar amp. He held position before jumping off when the last song hit and roughhoused with the other guitarist for a bit. Did I mention there was a bottle of Maker’s continually shrinking on the side of the stage? He gave up his guitar and there was a last-song-buzz in the air; "Electric Boom" began and there was now a floor tom for him to beat the shit out of next to his mic stand back at center stage. His force and violence continued to negate the Grateful Dead shirt he is wearing. And then, at the climax, it finally happened: he climbed the lighting scaffolding on the side of the stage and swung over to the 20-foot high speaker stacks. His energy was incredible.

I was reminded of the Lincoln Hall show, when he went up to the balcony and looked like he would jump onto us, the crowd, 20-feet below, but somehow refrained. He climbed back to the scaffolding throwing his drum sticks into the crowd. He was dangling there, looking like he might fall, but he never did. He returned to the floor tom for the final chorus and stage dived 10-15 feet into the crowd, who somehow managed to sustain his fury. An actual sense of danger filled the air. It was almost like a cry for help coupled with his obvious drinking abuse. I was flooded with thoughts: is it a problem? Or is it rock and roll? Does it matter? Before I could entirely process it, the set ended, he thanked the crowd and hurled his mic at a guitar amp. The feedback remaining was like a lifeline flattened, the crowd deafening as they returned for an encore.

“We legitimately feel at home here,” Yannis declared. And while an extended version of "Two Steps, Twice" was much appreciated, it didn’t compare to the antics that previously closed out the set. He lit up a cigarette I could smell from the balcony and they still played at breakneck pace, 75 minutes into the set. The drummer from Freelance Whales came out to bang on a floor tom this time. The obvious focus of the set was Yannis, yet Foals is really a band that brings it all together, every member contributing their own energy. But Yannis is the only dangerous one, the one where the energy manifests into brilliance.


Check out more show reviews:
Lupe Fiasco at House of Blues
Hemmingbirds at Lincoln Hall


  1. excellent review!

  2. The extended instrumental sections were actually added energy for me due to the complexity of the rhythm sections and buildups. It seemed the majority of the crowd used it as an opportunity to dance a bit. Great review and show.