Yannis and co lead the celebrations as Transgressive Records lays on a birthday treat. Heaven, London, Friday, September 25
There’s a short alien gimp onstage below a railway arch. Poured into silver Lycra, the thing grabs a mic and starts making noise from its foodhole. “Oooeeeoooh,” it breathes. “Eeeeeeiiiiaaaaoh!” Four dudes in T-shirts tumble into view, pick up instruments and start slicing cool polyrhythms as the weird swooping vocal pierces the muggy air, but the alien is shedding its skin.
Beneath the shiny epidermis lies Yannis Philippakis, and no-one’s bothering to work out just why he’s dressed up like that because he’s just picked up a guitar and kicked off the bodysuit, which means it’s now dance o’clock and the time for pondering is over.
Rewind to a couple of hours earlier, and Wet Paint are opening this fifth-birthday celebration for Transgressive Records by doing their flailing-about, grunge-pop thing. Tuneful and gutsy they may be, but that’s about it. Not bad for a pre-8pm slot on a Friday supporting one of the best live bands in the country, but it just goes to show: backlight any floppy-haired herbert with a guitar and they’ll look half like a real rock star.
Continuing the theme of technological assistance, Northern Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club are tonight employing the services of a drum machine as they’re midway through auditions for a human sticksman to join their ranks, leaving what should be a frayed, exuberant fizz feel somewhat clinical. With Alex Trimble’s trembling voice echoing over Sam Halliday’s guitar, which falls over itself in the rush to fire out laser-guided Casio riffs, they’ve got a touch of the early Bloc Party about them for the most part, but the more expansive, Holy Fuck-like touches suggest that when they get a drummer and let Halliday take the lead a bit more they’ll be filling rooms like this with ease. At the moment, though, it’s very much unfinished business.
Speaking of which, Foals have flown over from Sweden to take a break from the recording of their second album to play this show, and they’re determined to stretch and flex as they emerge blinking into the strobes. But the opening trio of ‘The French Open’, ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘Balloons’ is too familiar, and the band know it too.
The latter in particular, which normally builds from somewhere deep within the pit of the stomach before blossoming outwards, feels leaden and clumsy. And the young crowd want more
– they’ve heard these tunes a hundred times before – so it takes the new ‘Spanish Sahara’ to kick off. This is where Foals’ magic now lies, in taking the high-register intricacies that made ‘Antidotes’ a slow-burn masterpiece rather than the singles collection many expected, and using Edwin Congreave’s keyboards to birth spacious, spaced-out post-rock you can dance blindly to. From here on in, tonight really feels like a party.
A feral ‘Cassius’ leads into a second, untitled newie, which untethers Philippakis and Jimmy Smith’s guitars to weave playful tapestries around one another while Walter Gervers’ heartbeat bass provides a thumping grounding. The strobes are punching white holes in everyone’s brain a dozen times
a second, and ‘Red Socks Pugie’ spills out into a choppy sea of percussion as Philippakis beats the living shit out of a poor floor tom, yelping like he’s being beaten up by a bassline. All that stuff about wasps’ nests and terminals in our heads is only unsettling when we think about it later, because as it boils to a climax Heaven is either jumping, hugging or jumping while hugging – at this point NME’s toes are dancing.
The encore kicks off with an unfinished jam, led by Jack Bevan’s bruising drumbeat, and another new song, ‘Death Surf’. That all the new material aired tonight is gulped down hungrily by the crowd is the real victory, and it’s not so much because Foals have been away for a while but because it feels so exciting being let into their world of incomplete genius, with songs shifting bodily beneath our ever-moving feet. So it’s up to the now-classic ‘Two Steps, Twice’ to send everyone gasping into the night, which it does with almost casual ease.
It alternately stutters, pummels and teases before delivering a few minutes of ecstatic freedom that is an entire universe away from the humourless science Foals’ music is so often mistaken for – as an album track it was always a highlight, but as a way to close a stunning show like this, it’s simply perfect. Happy birthday, Transgressive: for bringing us Foals we owe you a fucking colossal cake.