The Leopard, Doncaster, December 2

Foals’ idiosyncratic way of warming up for new album ‘Holy Fire’ is a tour of towns they’ve rarely had cause to visit, playing venues about a tenth of the size they’d normally fill. We’ve missed them, the contrary buggers.

Filing onto The Leopard’s tiny stage, only Yannis and fellow guitarist Jimmy Smith are able to fit at the front; their bandmates are stacked up behind them, disappearing into the low ceiling. They’re flanked by a couple of bouncers on a fruitless mission to prevent the capacity crowd from spilling over.

Twinkling arpeggios propel slow-burning instrumental opener ‘Pavlov’, a song that offers a slightly misleading introduction to Foals 3.0. It’s only when they launch into a rejuvenated ‘Balloons’ two songs later that the influence of the ‘Holy Fire’ sessions becomes apparent: the riffs are that much beefier, the pace less frenetic, and the emphasis is on funky, muscular rhythms rather than the twitchy, fretwork-led Foals of old. Recently they told NME their new album was “swampy” with “grooves that are quite stinky” and that their “indie disco stuff’s dead and buried with a chain of garlic around its neck”. At the time we weren’t quite sure what they were on about, but tonight all becomes clear.

Then comes ‘Cleaver’, which has Yannis imploring, “I’m an animal, just like you/Oh Lord, what can I do?” against a backdrop of scurrilous rock riffage. During the song’s lascivious instrumental break he finds himself clambering up the back wall, standing with arms aloft, lost in the ecstasy of it all, while the band continue to unleash merry hell onstage. It’s Foals’ weirdest direction yet, so far from their math-rock beginnings you have to wonder if it’s still them. But they still have the courage of their convictions – Foals have always been a band ready to speed off in the opposite direction from everyone else. Somehow, they always end up somewhere brilliant.

‘My Number’ deviates less from the sonic blueprint established on the first two albums, coming on like a tropical cousin of ‘Miami’ from ‘Total Life Forever’, played earlier alongside a masterful ‘Spanish Sahara’, for which Yannis barely needs to sing, such is the volume of the crowd’s accompaniment. Debut album ‘Antidotes’ is well represented too, with the aforementioned ‘Balloons’ as well as ‘Electric Bloom’, ‘Olympic Airways’ and a raucous encore of ‘Two Steps Twice’, which ends with both Yannis and various microphones surfing above the crowd.

We might only get to hear a measly four ‘Holy Fire’ cuts tonight, but there’s plentiful evidence to suggest that 2013 is in safe hands. It’s a brave man indeed who’d bet against Yannis’ post-‘Inhaler’ assertion that the third coming of his band is going to “smoke some bitches up, yo”.
Robert Webb