Crowd Surfing, Clothes Throwing, Flea Bites Optional (or not): Foals and Cage the Elephant in what may be The Greatest Rock Gig Ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness, recently, mainly because it’s all about you everywhere you turn these days. In the papers, on the telly, on t’Internet, some bozo’s earning a few bob recycling this concept of, if you can live in the moment and forget about the past and the future, it’s like, such a healing place to be, you know? The Buddhists have been doing it for years apparently. Who knew.

I was even thinking about this during the early stages of the Foals set on Sunday night, as they began tearing up the O2 Academy, Glasgow, with a barnstorming performance. And why not? Isn’t that, after all, what the truly great gigs do – transport you from all your workaday worries and back story of woe to a place where you are just there, in that moment, enraptured, the magical wrangling of your synapses by the guitars/bass/drums/keyboard/vocals (or, I guess, if it floats your boat, random electronic bleepings) making you wish this moment could go on forever, that this, this was real life, and your other life, the one you call real life, was just a mildly disturbing dream you’d now woken from?

Yeah, well. If you’re anything like me, there are a million things to drag your mind’s sorry ass back from that rapture. To use Sunday as an example, the car being parked somewhere that looked like the place to park if you wanted to do a drug deal in the Gorbals. The guys to your right being more bent on getting the next pint in than sitting still and actually listening to the music, which you kind of thought was the point. Whether you’ll need to pee again before going back to collect what’s left of the car. The really strange smell coming off the seating.

And so to the music. We’ll gloss over the first support act, That Fucking Tank, a guitar and drums duo from Leeds. To be honest I had a really snarky riff about how they might have got started, but on the principle of if you haven’t something positive to say, don’t say anything at all, I won’t say anything at all. Besides, they were out there on stage getting paid for what they do, and your reviewer was in the front row of the balcony getting eaten by the local wildlife, so who is he to be snarky?

Besides, things took a distinct upward turn with the arrival of the second band, Cage the Elephant, a six-piece from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now, it’s fair to say your reviewer hadn’t heard of Cage the Elephant before, far less Bowling Green, Kentucky, but frankly any town unimaginative enough to name itself after a recreational pastime’s playing surface sounds like the kind of place you’d want to form a rock and roll band and get the hell out of, quam primum, as they say in Kelty. Or even Kentucky.

Bowling Green’s loss turned out to be Glasgow’s gain, big style. The band’s Wikipedia entry describes their musical style as ‘alternative rock, garage rock, punk blues, indie rock,’ which I suppose just about covers it, although it was definitely more punk than blues, with a generous dollop of bands like the Ramones prominent in the bone structure. Lead singer Matthew Shultz had also clearly attended the Iggy Pop Finishing School of Performing Arts, and it wasn’t long before he attempted his first – but by no means last – crowd surf.

Ah yes, the crowd. ‘You guys are animals,’ Shultz informed them on making it back to the stage, before taking his top off and diving back in for more. And indeed they were. The Cage the Elephant set unleashed a growing frenzy in the stalls, and one could only lean over the balcony and watch, and marvel. There was lots of good natured (I think) slamming into one another amongst the young bucks, as well as a seemingly endless stream of stuff getting thrown: water, beer, other unspecified liquid substances, plastic (thankfully) containers, items of clothing. Shirts, socks, everything.

Most of this seemed to end up elsewhere in the crowd, rather than on stage, and the band played on as crowd members emulated Shultz, crawling over the heads of their fellow audience members, like drones ejected from the swarm, and looking for a way back into its warmth. Eventually these bold spirits would reach the front, where the security guys would pick them off and pass them along to the sides, where they would be released back into the hive mind.

As another review of the gig has noted, Cage the Elephant seemed to be in danger of stealing the show. They closed their set in a squall of feedback, Shultz lying on his back on stage, facing away from the audience, stripped to the waist and glistening like a sweaty reincarnation of Jim Morrison himself. All he needed was the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels, but who knows, maybe only pussies drink JD in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

So Foals had a bit of work to do to reclaim their audience. They started slowly, with Prelude, before building through Hummer, Olympic Airways, and My Number. By this time the stalls were a seething, boiling mass of activity, and when frontman Yannis Philippakis disappeared into the crowd before rising, slowly, like a tiny bearded rock god, still playing his guitar, you could have sworn the fans bearing him aloft had fused into one adoring organism, made solely of flesh, beer, and plaid cotton.

Philippakis was a cooler, slightly less frenetic presence than Cage the Elephant’s Shultz – he had a guitar to play, after all – but ultimately the more charismatic of the two: and that’s saying something, because Shultz was no slouch in the crowd pleasing stakes. Ultimately, though, Foals as a musical unit have a really pleasing, unified, sound, with the guitars working off each other really superbly. I may write more about the frenetically scrubbed sound of many indie bands another time, but here the high-pitched riffing of Jimmy Smith’s guitar was complemented by the more rocky, lower register crunch of Philippakis’s.

The whole set was perfectly pitched, with highlights perhaps being Spanish Sahara, Providence, and Inhaler. The sound was just amazing, the light show (not something this reviewer is usually bothered about) astonishing, and the atmosphere – the sheer unbounded joy of the crowd bouncing around to every last drop of the thing – unforgettable.

And yes, even your festival dad reviewer, with all his accumulated lists of things to think, plan, and worry in advance on, lost himself in the midst of it all, found the rapture, and admitted to Daughter and Heiress that yes, this might be The Best Rock Gig Ever. Even better than Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Birmingham, 1987. Really. That good.

It wasn’t perfect, of course. The sound system blew out on the final encore, leaving the band to close the show with the muted growling of the onstage monitors. They could have dispensed with the first band and given themselves and Cage the Elephant longer sets. And there were the insect bites to consider the next day. But then, the Best Rock Gig Ever isn’t necessarily the Most Perfect Rock Gig Ever. In fact, it almost definitely isn’t. It needs to be hot and sweaty. Beer needs to be drunk, and indeed thrown liberally over other people. Steam has to actually rise from the seats at the end of it (yes, really!)

And Foals saw that all of that came to pass. And lo, Foals looked down upon their followers, and were pleased. And lo, the feeling was entirely mutual.

Flea bites though. Genuine, honest to goodness critters sucking the blood out of you. I’m taking the insect repellent to Bombay Bicycle Club on 3rd March.


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