Foals, Rolo Tomassi
First off, respect to the (obviously bonkers) young ladies milling about the place wearing retro 1970s style tennis gear and waving tennis racquets about. This reference to Foals' professed love of the sport is a nice little touch - especially as its freezing outside and short shorts aren't warm at the best of times.
Anyway, before the young horses get here, it's the obligatory support act. Tonight it's Rolo Tommasi (or Tomassi or something like that). It used to be that support acts were uniformly terrible and only served to be something to attract all the bottles/cans/coins and other assorted missiles before the main act would come on and seem outstanding in comparison. RT are a throw-back to the old days, only without the rain of abuse. Once we get past the disconcerting novelty of a respectable elfin young lady going all Exorcist on us and producing a very creditable metal growl (in sharp contrast to her delicate and unassuming speaking voice), the whole thing feels like a Chris Morris joke. It's art-for-the-sake-of-it, so-intellectual-it-hurts, 16-levels-of-post-modern-ironic clashing noise, presumably intended to be a continuation of the obtuse, difficult, deliberately hard on your audience edgy music beloved by masochists. I've nothing against that (I've been known to listen to the odd bit of Norwegian death metal, and am a fan of Mike Patton's work, the odd bit of intelligent - i.e. difficult - dance music, and some jazz as well), but to do that you either have to be startling original or brilliant. They aren't. It's like a group of mates all into different types of music have been writing songs by committee and refusing to let any of their favourite stuff be dropped, and a tight rhythm section topped with wannabe-avant-garde synths and metal riffs isn't enough to win over a bemused audience. If Aphex Twin was producing metal might be their aim, but he would probably have a point to the perversity, instead this is perverse as an attempt to be clever. It isn't.
After that, Foals could loop themselves farting into the drum mics and probably sound good. Thankfully, they don't. Instead they begin with an instrumental jam, all intensity and unspoken effort, as though they have to warm themselves up and mentally prepare for what is to come. What comes is the aforementioned tennis tune, 'The French Open', all soft angles and multi-layered rhythms and melodies as they wander around the stage, restrained only by the need to return to the mics for the vocals as they jam it up, having taken the original song as a starting point for their expansion. This is the theme for the evening, a band so familiar and comfortable with the material that to merely play it is beneath them. 'Olympic Airways' with its little punk-funk bass provokes outbreaks of dancing as the jam from track to track as though they can't stop themselves. In contrast to the support these little interludes and amendments feel like they're for their own amusement and growth, rather than to deliberately annoy the audience. 'Balloons' is similarly kicked up a notch and feels like they're straining to hold it together, and 'Heavy Water' is like Foals in essence, as the drums seemingly play six rhythms as once while everything else runs off in different directions, yet somehow compliment each other. Claiming the lights make us look like we're underwater, they sigh, and wheel out 'Cassius' as though they're bored of this song, and it is now obligatory rather than a joy for them. It's a shame as it still sounds great, but weak in comparison to the rest of the set. Closing with 'Electric Blue' with an additional drum from Yannis adding to the sheer force of rage and anger, before he goes walkabout, it feels like everything is being left on the stage, along with the pools of sweat gathering at the feet of the band. Probably crawling back for the encore, they promise to bring us some new material next time, possibly based on that opening jam, and leave us with 'Two Steps Twice'. They certainly don't have to tell us twice.