While taking in a quick lunch of a Mediterranean omelet at the venerable Ukrainian diner Veselka on the Lower East Side with members of the UK alt rock band Foals a few weeks ago before their show in upstate New York, I …suddenly realized I left my illegally obtained 69 ounce soda on the subway and dashed to 4th Street to talk to the dude in the ticket booth about suing the city of New York for revoking my library card. Okay so I wasn’t eating Italian breakfast food for lunch at a Ukrainian restaurant with Foals (nor did I manage to sneak a 69 ounce soda through the Holland Tunnel), but I did see them live a million weeks ago and loved the show – in fact, when I total up all the shows I’ve seen in 2013, the performance by Foals might rank as the best (it’s the best so far at least).
Foals were joined by a couple of young bands I diffidently admire and with whom they are currently touring the US – Blondfire and Surfer Blood. I love/worship Foals and the performances of their bill mates made for nice warm-ups, albeit in unequal measures. Thanks to lead singer Erica Driscoll’s syrupy-sweet voice and appearance, Blondfire comes across as a poppy and cute alt rock act, and the band strived to accentuate that image by performing a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, which, with a full-length LP and several EPs under their belt, didn’t seem necessary. Nonetheless, the band’s much scrappier radio hit “Where the Kids Are” is a cool tune, and Blondfire performed it nicely as the finale of their brief set. They also snuck in their new single “Waves,” which sounds suspiciously close to the Olivia Newton John vibe that Sophia Knapp co-opted in last year’s splendid album coincidently titled Into the Waves. Blondfire is looking to release their second full length ASAP (hopefully this summer), and I look forward to checking it out and seeing their fuller set minus the easy covers.
In spite of their name, Surfer Blood is absolutely not a California punk/pop surf rock band – rather they are a Florida punk/pop surf rock band that recently moved to California. I admittedly haven’t listened much to Surfer Blood, so I was keen to pick out some of the bands who seem to be obvious influences as their set proceeded. To my ears, Surfer Blood sounds like a smash up of the breezy themes and rhythms of Best Coast/Beach Boys, but incorporating a guitar driven touch of the heaviness meets harmony punk-outs of Social Distortion and Rise Against.
During their set, Surfer Blood’s lead singer, John Paul Pitts engaged in some fun-lovin’ sassiness by jumping into the crowd for energetic yet clumsy high-fives (a la Jack Black’s failures in School of Rock) and had guitarist Tom Fekete draw cat whiskers on his face with a sharpie. Fekete, also got caught up in the goofy high jinx as he proceeded to play “Catholic Pagans” with his teeth for a few seconds – oh those crazy surfer guys. The members of Surfer Blood more closely resemble the dudes from Big Bang Theory than pop stars. But who cares, they rock, especially on the guitars. Surfer Blood’s rhythm section comes across a tad lackluster (bad sign for a surf rock band), but Pitts and Fekete absolutely shred their guitars, especially on the tunes they performed from their 2010 album Astro Coast like “Floating Vibes” and “Take it Easy.” They closed with the very pleasant “Swim,” that offered a nice riff and some slick percussive changes near the middle of the tune. I certainly liked Surfer Blood’s set, but its energy, style, and look seemed ill-matched with what Foals was about to bring.
Foals’ performance was awesome – the band began by stealthily sneaking onto stage in the dark (wearing black t-shirts), finally breaking the long pause between sets to rip through the “Prelude” and first song on their new album Holy Fire (my favorite radio single of the year “Inhaler”). The audience was alive with intensity as the band fed off its energy tearing through tunes like “Milk and Black Spiders” and “Late Night” … whoops, I’m veering into the realm of concert review clichés (anyway, I’m not really sure how much energy the crowd actually provided, and the total amount of energy the guys from Foals consumed). My failed attempt to express the transcendental communion between the audience and band notwithstanding, I still must express how smitten I was with this show.
As I have alluded to in past concert reviews (uh, not that anyone ever reads them), I believe the core of any strong live performance is a band’s rhythm section – if the bass and drums are on, even if the artists are the Ray Coniff Singers, then most of the time the show is solid (unless the singer is a friggin’ jerk like Jack White or Mac DeMarco). Similar to bands such as Appleseed Cast and Maps & Atlases, the members of Foals have serious technical command over their instruments (although with their parts pop/parts progressive stylings Foals’ sound doesn’t necessarily come off as math rock). Bassist Walter Gervers and drummer Jack Bevan were totally on during this performance allowing numbers such as “Electric Bloom” and “Spanish Sahara” to develop organically through intensely driving bass lines and precision drumming leading to the characteristic spaced out, exquisitely timed, heavy releases from the guitar and keys that so often occurs within Foals’ repertoire. And like my clichéd quip above, the members of Foals offer a tremendous amount of physical energy to their performance – as exemplified by guitarist Jimmy Smith’s rugged gyrations throughout the entire set while delivering his amazing spaced out riffs and solos.
I sense Foals isn’t greatly disappointed over their missed meal of trendy hipster food with me (or some dorky music journalist from the New York Times), and although I have failed to adequately gauge the precise amount of energy expressed and consumed during their set in Clifton Park a million weeks ago, I must declare that Foals puts on a darn fine show. This exact bill is currently rolling through the West, and I suggest that those who can check it out do so. Here is a clip of the performance of Spanish Sahara from the evening.
Nate Jones is middle-aged, rapidly balding man with chronic bad breath who writes about culture, identity politics, and sometimes music. His published work includes pieces in Ready Player None: A Ready Player One Fanzine, Old White Dudes’ Quarterly, various want ads seeking vintage Atari 2600 cartridges, and his blog entitled “My Heaven is 1973.”