Foals v Kula Shaker – the result

So, to pick up the story: Daughter and Heiress and I had a Glaswegian rock n’ roll weekend, with Foals at the SSE Hydro on Friday 12th, and Kula Shaker on Monday 15th at the 02 ABC (D & H then went on to see Cage the Elephant at the Queen Margaret Union the night after that, but I’ll leave her to tell you about that – ah, the stamina of youth! Mind, she was like a damp dishrag the next day…)

Foals and Kula Shaker are both, in the Venn diagram that makes up our joint musical tastes, firmly in the middle. She introduced me to Foals: I introduced her to the Kulas. So comparisons, to be honest, are invidious – both were great gigs, but we each will have brought our own past listening history to them.

Foals are currently in what proper music critics these days call their ‘imperial phase:’ in other words, that period of a band’s career (often all too brief) where they’ve built up a substantial following; each album has been better received than the last; the venues just keep getting bigger; and if the drummer drives a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, it’s seen as just a bit of youthful high jinks rather than the harbinger of the inevitable descent into addictions, dwindling audiences, musical differences and legal wrangles complex enough to make Jarndyce v Jarndyce seem like an accelarated small claims action at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court.

As such, Foals can pretty much do no wrong at the moment, and after a cracking Spanish meal in the West End at Rioja, we found the SSE suitably well packed and appreciative as they reeled through a well thought out set drawing mainly from their last two albums, ‘Holy Fire’ and ‘What Went Down,’ but not neglecting early classics like ‘Spanish Sahara.’

Kula Shaker’s trajectory, on the other hand, is a little more bipolar than imperial. I suppose you could say their main moment in the sun was in the late 90s; thereafter, they disappeared till the mid-Noughties, when a brief comeback spawned two albums; and then, little, until the latest album and tour. They’ve suffered not so much from a critical mauling as perpetual critical sniffiness: they’re derivative of Beatles-era blending of eastern music and mysticism with western rock tropes (like most bands aren’t derivative of something); their front man, Crispian Mills, comes from a famous family and has the temerity to delve into ‘alternative’ stuff, from sanskrit texts to Rosslyn Chapel; their sound hasn’t evolved much.

Yeah, well. I could say a lot about that but I’m not going to. Well, all right, a bit. If you don’t like your rock stars to come from middle class backgrounds, you can throw out three quarters of your record collection because it’s a sad fact that, like university entrance, your chances of success in the privileged world of rock stardom greatly increase if your parents are a bit more M & S than Poundland. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

As for the whole mysticism/sticking to the same style of music throughout your career, so what? It’s not as if the world is currently overburdened with that particular style or, indeed, mystical searching: I admire Mills partly because he’s ploughing his own, unfashionable furrow. At least he’s not doing albums of Sinatra standards or throwing away his banjo and sounding a lot like Coldplay instead. So there.

I’d last seen Kula Shaker with my nephew, Dave, at the University Union in the mid-Noughties incarnation, so I knew how good they could be live. However, initially on Monday night, the signs and portents weren’t overwhelmingly good: Mills is far too good a guitarist to fluff his riffs, exactly, but there were a couple that, shall we say, he caught just in time; ‘Mountain Lifter,’ being played live for the first time, had to be restarted. One of the most pleasing elements of the gig, actually, was that he admitted to being nervous, just before going into the other excellent track from the new album, ‘Infinite Sun.’ Rock star vulnerability: a rare thing.

Part of this was down to your man having a broken rib to contend with: ‘You should’ve seen the other duck pond,’ he joked, before proceeding to disprove all claims of ‘decrepitude’ by  giving a 24-carat-gold plated, full on, turned up to 11, performance of guitar heroics throughout that included leaping (it seemed) ten feet in the air mid-solo, chucking the Strat up in the air and catching it, and finishing half the songs flat on his back, blasting the final notes from a perilously prone position. I mean, any of you who’ve never actually strapped on an electric and tried to play it, borrow a friend’s and feel how hefty a block of solid wood the bugger is: it bangs against your ribs at the best of times, so to put on the show for us he did was actually pretty physically brave.

Aside from the two new songs mentioned above, the crowd got the hits they were looking for, with a heavy reliance on ‘K’ (6 songs) and ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’ (5). There was the inevitable cover of ‘Hush’ to great acclaim (Incidentally, Gavin Allen of the Mirror, Hush was originally written by Joe South for Billy Joe Royal (Wikipedia tells me) and Deep Purple did the most famous cover, when Husker Du were still at the rusks stage. Just saying.) One of your blog’s personal favourites, ‘Shower Your Love,’ got a new treatment, the rolling sus-4 chord intro making me think for a moment there was a cover of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on the way (next time, Crispy, if I can call you Crispy).

It was one of those gigs that just built and built, from the aforementioned early-tour rustiness. Mills does carry it all on his shoulders – keyboards, drums and bass are there to back his single guitar, and there were times when you wondered if another guitarist playing off him would have lightened the load, at least (consider this my job application, Crispers…). On the other hand, the one time the keyboard player picked up an acoustic, for ‘Ophelia,’ Mills spent half the song gesturing at the sound guy to turn him down, so maybe he’s best just doing it all himself.

As the band unrolled classic after classic, leaving the stage after a climactic ‘Tattva,’ you wondered what they had left in the tank. Any doubting Thomases were soon quietened by a three-number encore of ‘Hey Dude,’ ‘Great Hosanna’ (my personal favourite) and ‘Govinda,’ the crowd participation in the last one so thunderous that a smiling Mills told us we’d ‘just taken the roof off’ at the end.

So. Foals v Kula Shaker? Comparisons are, or course, invidious. Foals were just great, and at the top of their game. But it’s ‘Shower Your Love’ I’ve been picking out the chords for on acoustic since (the old fashioned way by ear, mind, not just looking up guitar tab sites) and ‘Peasants Pigs and Astronauts’ on the car CD player all week.

For I have seen the One True Rock and Roll Way. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I played harmonica as a child, and became a dedicated follower of His Bobness. Then I encountered the cult of Springsteen, and was Born to Run Again, yea, truly Blinded by the Light; since then I have hearkened unto the Cave People, and studied the wisdom of their Dark Lord, Nick; and more recently spent time (and performed) with the Cohen-ites, and learned the words of their Prophet, Leonard. But consider the signs and portents: did Saint Crispian not break a rib before the tour? And did the Jewish God not remove one of Adam’s ribs? Okay, so He made a woman out of it, and I’m not sure where the duck pond fits into the whole thing – maybe Crispers was walking across it at the time?

No matter. All will be revealed to the Inner Initiates of Shakerism. It is indeed like the world has lost its head, and like all the prophets said. I have been to the gig and seen the Holy Peacock Stratocaster flung to the heavens; I have bought the t-shirt, and, as soon as I post this nonsense up, I’m having the new album as well. May the acolytes on the rest of the European tour raise The Great Hosanna and then, maybe then, we will arise to a new dawn, and set course for the heart of the Infinite Sun!

Right. Now to find those incense sticks – I’m sure they’re in the back of a drawer somewhere…


Daughter and Heiress’s shrine-like cork board of gig tickets. Once her reviews of Foals, Kula Shaker and Cage the Elephant are up, they’ll show up as links in this sentence. In the meantime, a more sensible review than mine of the Kulas’ Glasgow gig can be found at the Independent.

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