An allergy attack of biblical proportions cut short for me the Foals/Surfer Blood concert last night, but I managed to catch most of the night. Here are five abbreviated thoughts on the evening.
1. I love the Newport and all its quirks and charms, but there are simply some bands and musical styles that aren’t great fits for the concert hall. Count Surfer Blood among them. Similar to last July’s Best Coast show at the Newport, Surfer Blood’s reverb-heavy vocals tended to drift off into the upper balconies, lost in the cavernous venue. You could argue the effect was right in line with the band’s sound — and you’d have a good case — but to my ears it only called more attention than necessary to the band’s thin vocals, especially on the tracks from 2011’s Tarot Classics, which don’t lean on reverb-plastered vocals as much as debut LP Astro Coast. All that said, Surfer Blood’s final song, “Swim,” was everything I hoped it’d be: rapturous, driving and a perfect kick-off to my summer. The only way it could have been improved was with a warm summer breeze flitting over my skin.
2. Last night’s show marks the third time I’ve seen Foals since 2008, and each was in a different venue. The first show was to promote debut LP Antidotes at Lollapalooza. The second to promote sophomore album Total Life Forever at mid-sized Outlands. And the third was, well, last night. Each show was uniquely different, and I walked away last night impressed that they were able to cater their live performances to the size of the crowd and the venue. Sounds simple enough, but not every band can do it.
3. That said, if I had one complaint with Foals last night it was the occasionally directionless jamming that undercut the power and energy their songs and performances can hold, especially if you are, as my colleague Brad Keefe is, adverse to such noodling. I’m not so much, as long as it’s kept to a minimum and in service of the songs (see: Wilco, Yo La Tengo). But there were times last night I found my attention faltering briefly, whereas Mr. Keefe was left almost entirely underwhelmed (judging from our brief Twitter exchange). It was a shame, though, because otherwise Foals can be an exceedingly engaging band.
4. To wit: Lead singer Yannis Philippakis, who must have had a bucket list of frontman antics he wanted to check-off before the night was over. Crowdsurfing? Check. Wandering out into the crowd to be among the masses? Check. Climbing amplifiers or whatever’s nearby to get as high into the air as possible? Check. Doubling as a second percussionist? Check. I wouldn’t say it was impressive, original or skillful, but it kept the crowd tuned into the show, and sometimes that’s all you want of your frontman.
5. Oh, one more (minor) complaint. No “Cassius” — again — but I definitely dug hearing old cuts like “Olympic Airways,” “Two Steps, Twice,” “Red Socks Pugie,” and “Electric Bloom.” In fact, the bigger surprise was how few songs from Total Life Forever that were played (by my count, two).