Muse for the third time in twelve years? Coldplay for the fourth in fourteen? Discounting Adele – who’s already the most successful act in the world anyway – this year’s Glastonbury bill really hammers home what every festival promoter regularly bemoans: the dearth of new, viable British headliners. Could Foals – who, lest we forget, are doing the honours at Reading & Leeds later this summer – be the next one to break through?
The last time Yannis Philipakis and co. were at Glastonbury, back in 2013, they were the penultimate act on the Other Stage; tonight, they’re warming up the Pyramid for Muse, which is as good as a formal audition for the top spot. The Oxford group’s rise has been steady rather than meteoric; it’s taken Foals four albums to get to this point, and while they’ve certainly broadened their sound since debut album ‘Antidotes’, they’ve also evolved into a formidable, often ferocious, live band in the process – pulverisingly visceral one minute, seductively funky the next.
Opening with the snarling blues-rock of ‘Snake Oil’ before shifting gear into the loose-limbed dance-punk of ‘Olympic Airways’, the significance of the occasion isn’t lost on Philipakis, who repeatedly underlines just how important this gig is for the group. “I know for a lot of people, today was a disappointing day,” he begins, “but whatever the politics, this is a big day for you, and it’s a big day for us – let’s make this special.” It’s ‘My Number’ – which comes along just as you’re beginning to wonder whether Foals, to use a well-worn cliche, ‘have the tunes’ to keep a crowd of this size on-side – that gives the first indication of their success: the combination of an irresistible chorus with a balmy sunset remains a surefire winner at Glastonbury. Halfway through the show, Yannis delivers his own personal verdict: “Smashing start,” he humbly declares.
‘Mountain at My Gates’ is another crowdpleaser, underpinned by Walter Gerver’s probing, Stone Roses-esque bassline and Philipakis’ rasping, full-throated delivery. In truth, Foals could probably use a few more songs like it – their hour-long set, while undeniably impressive, still features the occasional lull such as ‘Knife in the Ocean’, a “deep cut” from new album ‘What Went Down’ that’s perhaps a little too deep (or a little too meandering) for the crowd to pay much attention to. There’s no faulting their endgame, however: a savage blast through ‘Inhaler’ – sounding not unlike a math-rock Rage Against the Machine – the bruising ‘What Went Down’ and ‘Two Steps, Twice’, which brings the set to a frenzied close, with Philipakis crowd-surfing through the front rows while confetti canons erupt and flares go arcing into the evening sky. It makes for quite a sight – one Foals should probably start getting used to.