Foals and Surfer Blood at First Avenue, 5/20/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo By Erik Hess

With Surfer Blood and Blondfire
First Avenue, Minneapolis
May 20, 2013

There are a few different ways for musicians to approach the dreaded Monday night show, where typically fans and bands alike are still feeling the effects of the weekend and the obligatory drag of the start of the work week. The first is to play like every show is on a Saturday night, and bring enough energy to your songs that the crowd simply gets swept up in it. The second is to go through the motions, get through the set with little more than is required, and save yourself for the big shows on the weekends when everyone is naturally in a party mood.

Those two techniques were on full display at First Avenue on Monday evening, where the Oxford, England, quintet Foals delivered a dynamic and forceful 90-minute set that completely invigorated the crowd, while Palm Beach, Florida's Surfer Blood gave a listless, tepid performance full of flat new songs that didn't come close to packing the same musical punch as those found on their debut.

See Also:
Slideshow: Foals at First Avenue, 5/20/13
Surfer Blood and the Drums at the Varsity Theater, 10/13/10

When the edgiest thing that takes place during your performance is when guitarist Thomas Fekete draws cat whiskers on singer John Paul Pitts, who then jumps into the crowd to smoke an e-cigarette, you know something is a bit off with the set. It's been well over three years since Surfer Blood released their undeniably catchy and inspired debut album, Astro Coast, and while the group are using their current tour with Foals to get audiences excited about their long-awaited follow-up, Pythons, due out in June, this show sadly won't have too many fans counting the days until its release.

While Surfer Blood's older songs (like "Floating Vibes" and "Take It Easy") certainly have more of a spirited bite than their rather pedestrian newer material, the band seemed to be sleepwalking through their classic stuff as well, not bringing any added energy to a song as naturally massive as "Swim," which again sounded as passionless and stale as their newer songs on offer, like "Gravity" and "Weird Shapes," which Pitts said was written about his stomach.

Photo By Erik Hess

Even when Pitts introduced "Slow Six" as being a "sad fucking song," none of that emotion or anguish was conveyed through the performance, and the track drifted by languidly. The last song of the night did show a bit of promise, though, as Fekete deftly went from keys to guitar while giving "Drinking Problem" some moody sonic texture, while Pitts sat on the amps and played his solo, connecting with the crowd a bit more than he had during their disappointing 45-minute set.

Foals, on the other hand, had no problem forging an immediate relationship with the audience at the Ave, coming on stage to grand, theatrical pre-show music which immediately set the tone that we were in for something special. Guitarist Jimmy Smith came out alone, laying down the staccato riff to "Prelude," which the band (dressed all in black) expanded upon as they eventually joined him. Frontman Yannis Philippakis helped emphatically kick in the track's massive finish, as he danced in time to the booming rhythm while his spirited guitar sounds washed over the crowd.

Foals, who are touring in support of their stellar new album, Holy Fire, were clearly road tested and tight as hell throughout the entire performance, with each crisp, insistent number ringing out pristinely throughout the club. "Hey Minneapolis, what's up?" asked Philippakis straight away at the start of the show. "It's good to be back." And with that, the band launched into the towering "Total Life Forever," and the set truly took off. The track featured a smooth breakdown toward the finish, with just Philippakis's guitar carrying the song forward as the crowd clapped along, before the end of the number truly caught fire.

Photos By Erik Hess

"This is an old one," announced Philippakis, as the band eased their way into the fitful pace of "Olympic Airways," with drummer Jack Bevan standing atop his chair in order to get the crowd clapping in time to the beat. Foals' songs are rather hypnotic and slow-building, drawing you in with their repetitive, insistent hooks, so that when the payoff eventually comes and the track inevitably explodes in euphoric release, you feel that relentless energy coursing through your entire body. Seeing them perform is a very visceral experience, as the magnetic spirit of their massive songs prove to be utterly intoxicating and entirely irresistible.

Smith took to the keys for a pulsing version of "Bad Habit," locking in with full-time keyboardist Edwin Congreave to create a textured sonic tone that pushed the song forward. Bevan and bassist Walter Gervers were set up at the back of the stage, forming the dynamic rhythm section that gave the songs their measured core, while Smith and Philippakis were both prominently situated at the front of the stage, leading the songs into their untamed, adventurous direction. The band had no trouble making the transition from the Entry (where the played two memorable shows in 2008 and '10) to the Mainroom, easily filling up the larger club with their towering, urgent arrangements.

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