As a large crowd settled in for Foals’ main-stage set at Lollapalooza last weekend, it was fitting that a hazy August mist loomed overhead. Hailing from Oxford, England, Foals know how to make music that goes well with fog. Coolly entering the stage, the rockers kicked off their afternoon slot with Snake Oil from their 2016 album What Went Down. Crisp yet psychedelic ramblings from a plethora of instruments, including singer Yannis Philippakis and his Gibson electric, began to rumble out as the five Englishmen wielded their blend of contradictory indie rock.
Listening to Foals is a mind-consuming experience. The band, which has been around for just over a decade, manages to incorporate airy vibes of psychedelics (especially with earlier albums such as Antidotes and Total Life Forever) while coming together in full to be a polished, intricate, and edgy sound, a phenomenon witnessed with other 2000s-born indie rock bands like TV on The Radio and Portugal The Man. What Went Down, released by the band in 2015, is by far Foals’ most mainstream and radio-ready record. However, most Foals fans wouldn’t cite this as a bad thing. The record has been wildly successful: it won the NME Award for Best Album in 2016, and two of its hits, Mountain at My Gates and What Went Down, get regular air time on alternative radio stations. The broad appeal can likely be attributed to the album’s combination of the intricate, funky beats that long-time Foals fans know and love, and a smooth, danceable pop sound that the band has been honing since hit song “My Number” on their 2013 album Holy Fire. It’s also arguably the most “rock” album the band has made, featuring intense, escalating guitar riffs in many of its songs.
“Oh man, I forgot they even played this song!,” A girl next to me exclaimed, gleaming as she bouncily started to sway into the upbeat rhythm of “My Number”. I wouldn’t peg the majority of crowd constituents at Foals’ set as major fans; truthfully, it seemed like the kind of audience that knew one or two hits, or stumbled across it while waiting for another band. For me, this kind of experience is fascinating to witness, and in this case I watched Foals impress themselves upon the mood of the crowd. During most of the set, you had a classic array– hardcore fans dancing jumping around in the very front, and the rest a general consensus of head bobbing and the occasional hands in the air when the vibe amped up. But whether the band picked up on this or not, you wouldn’t know. Instead, all that could be interpreted was Foals’ consistent ability to crank out musically intricate tunes with such beautiful live efficiency. In this way, their set was perhaps most emblematic of the journey of a band; you make your music, try to do it well, and put it out there for the world to hear (and hopefully like).
By the band’s closer, which was the smooth, edgy, and popular tune What Went Down, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the crowd had experienced a spiritual transition into die-hard Foals fans. But there was a noticeable atmosphere of appreciation and enjoyment radiating from the large gathering of strangers while the skilled musicians boomed their music into the foggy air. Foals might have been going through the typical plight of a band, but this day, they experienced the end goal: make music, do it really freaking well, and get people to love it, too.