So, I used to have a bit of a problem with Foals. They have a very unique rule for photographers—instead of the customary first three no flash, they opt for the last three no flash. While it sounds like a unique idea it poses a problem. How in the hell will I know when the last three songs are and does that include the encore? Last time I went to see them myself and several other photographers missed the opportunity to shoot.
On top of that, we were all so fucking stressed trying to figure everything out that we really couldn’t enjoy the show. So there goes the photo-journalist element of what I love about covering shows in the first place. You see, many of the bigger publications have a writer and a photog, I choose to do both. One, because I can, and two, because I’m in the thick of this and I want the reader to both see and feel what it was really like. I’m convinced that the best way to share this experience comes from one person doing both.
Back to Foals. I was speaking at a social media conference in San Diego and noticed the band was playing a show at the Observatory on their way back from Coachella. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I have to get another chance to shoot these guys, and I did. This time though, I was prepared. I found out how long the set was, stood up next to the photo pit barrier, and counted the songs.
Foals are recognized as one of the top UK live acts, having won the 2013 Q Award for Best Live Act and twice being nominated for the NME Award for Best Live Act. From the second the band hit the stage it was apparent that this show was going to be epic. The show was completely sold out, as in there wasn’t even a ticket left on Stubhub or Craigslist. These guys must have still been burning adrenaline from Coachella because they played as if there were fifty thousand people in the crowd and the wall of that theater didn’t exist.
The setlist was tight and went by pretty quick. I recognized most of the songs from streaming through their albums on Spotify the week before the show. “My Number” is clearly a standout and I guess you could call it their “breakthrough” hit if you had to. Frontman Yannis Philippakis might have spent more time in the crowd and on top of the crowd than he did on the stage. I was in the photo pit for the last five songs shooting this guy and he’s no joke. It’s almost like he possessed by the music or something because he’s seriously in the fucking moment from start to finish.
On one side I had the crowd who were completely losing their shit—and the other a band that sounded like they were leading a charge to bury every other indie rock band on the planet. The crowning moment of the night though came with a brilliant encore of “What Went Down.” This is arguably the band’s finest hour in terms of songwriting and live it was on another level. I actually had to put my camera down for a second because the entire building and floor were shaking so much that I was reminded of when Richie Finestra from the show Vinyl has the building collapse in on him during a New York Dolls show. It was intense.
As I was watching the show I couldn’t help but think that these guys reminded me of a modern-day Clash. I’m really surprised more people aren’t comparing the two, but from the look of the crowd that night I think the majority of their audience could be millennials who haven’t spent enough time listening to the band that likely influenced Foals. That’s not a knock at all, but an opportunity.
All in all one of the best shows I’ve seen in 2015 if not THE best so far. And for the record, Foals turned out to be one of my favorite bands to photograph. Hats off fellas, that was one hell of a performance. Hope to see it again when I move to London in three weeks.
Check out more photos from the amazing show in the gallery here.