Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Foals dive into Tampa, immerse the Ritz Ybor in big, brawny Britrock

It was around song 8, Providence, when Yannis Philippakis got the look.

The Foals frontman started pacing the Ritz Ybor stage, looking for an exit route, weighing his options. And once he'd sized things up, he was off, hopping into the pit with his guitar, plowing purposefully through the Tampa crowd and back around to the other side of the stage.

Philippakis was in the audience a minute, maybe 90 seconds, but that was all it took: The energy shot through the roof. That's what big-time guitar rock can do for a rowdy concert crowd. And Foals do it pretty dang well.

The British alt-rock group – superstars in their homeland, though not quite yet in the States – play like they were made for sprawling festivals. But Wednesday's concert showed Philppakis' stage-diving, crowd-surfing ways translate pretty well to smaller stages, too.

Foals cranked the volume pretty high from the jump, with a bruising low end and bluesy guitar foreplay swirling the audience into a heavy groove on instrumental opener Prelude. That gave way to the pummeling Snake Oil, with its toe-tapping beat and big, meaty, wrecking-ball riffs; and Olympic Airways, a post-punk rave-up of handclaps and fist pumps.

It didn't take long to pick up on Philippakis' subtle guitar wizardry. As rhythm guitarist Jimmy Smith jangled away and drummer Jack Bevan and bassist Walter Gervers built the foundation of a groove, Philippakis jumped and kicked through My Number and Blue Blood, chiming little droplets of melody into an immersive cloud of tones and textures. Some moments were showier than others – on Late Night, he went from ferociously jabbing his strings to unfurling a nifty Knopfleresque solo – but mostly his guitar fleshed out and expanded each swelling song, adding layer upon layer of sonic heft.

Time and again – Late Night, Give It All, Spanish Sahara – Foals would begin softly, semi-slowly, in atmospheric fashion, only to grow each one bloom a growling prog-rock monster. A Knife In the Ocean started out a stormy swinger, but never stopped building higher and burning brighter. And as multihued lights splashed off a disco ball, Red Socks Pugie expanded from a swoony post-punk dance song into an epic volcano of furious noise.

Foals do have a couple of stadium-sized anthems in their arsenal: Mountain At My Gates, imbued with extra soul thanks to keyboardist Edwin Congreave; and the slobberknocker rocker Inhaler, with its low guitars burbling and bubbling and conjuring thoughts of Led Zeppelin.

It was after Inhaler that Philippakis got the look again. For the encore, he hopped back offstage and into fans' arms on the incendiary title track to their 2015 album What Went Down. Then he briefly did it again for the closer Two Steps, Twice, his guitar still strapped to his chest.

The stage was smaller than many Foals are used to, but that just meant fans up front could go extra crazy when Philippakis leaped into their midst. They'll remember the look on his face. But thanks to his mighty guitar, the ringing in their ears might last even longer.

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