Midway through Foals’ buoyant opening night headline set at Reading Festival, frontman Yannis Philippakis gives a quick pep talk: “There’s a future headliner out there watching this – you’ll be up here in 5, 10, 15, 20 years where we are now.”
It serves as a reminder of just how formative these festivals can be, and how the Oxford-raised band were inspired similarly over their early times at Reading & Leeds by the behemoths on stage in front of them. Speaking to NME earlier this week, Philippakis said that “the idea that we’d ever play that slot, or just be stood on that stage, was mind blowing. It’s humbling to think of all the great bands that have stood there.”
Foals have history in that spot (but not this one on Main Stage West, the inverse at the other side of the field) given their headline slot in 2016 following the release of ‘What Went Down’ a year prior. If that set had a hint of nervous energy as the band proved their worth, there’s something so freeing and enjoyable about their second time at it.
The tour for ‘Life Is Yours’ has been their best to date, the accompanying album arriving last summer as lockdown restrictions eased and a first full festival season programme returned. Tonight, those songs have played a part in sanding off the edges of a once-feral energy into something looser, groovier: ‘2am’, ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Summer Sky’ alongside their pastel-hued visuals are welcome distraction to the roaring train line that runs parallel to the Reading festival site. Gone is the apocalypse-paranoia of their ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ double-album suite, instead ‘2am’ speaks of being “Lost in the sugar rush, violet sky / Beachside candy cane, blue tongues in summer rain”.
Even if there’s a focus on the new, it’s a welcome return for original bassist Walter Gervers who left the band for a five-year break. He brings a comforting feeling to an already excellent unit: debut album-era hits ‘Red Socks Pugie’ and ‘Olympic Airwaves’ are given an extra oomph in this set-up. Their mood-setting opus ‘Spanish Sahara’ still has a wealth of emotion and ecstasy in its release.
It’s a set with no real notes, aside the the inclusion of deep cut ‘Milk & Black Spiders’ which doesn’t quite land, even down the front. It brings them to the final straight of a lengthy run of shows, and the latest triumphant peak in a career of many. Who knows what the next generation of creators in this crowd will go on to do in the coming decades, but you could do far worse than being totally and utterly inspired by this brilliant set.
‘Wake Me Up’
‘Mountain at My Gates’
‘Red Socks Pugie’
‘Milk & Black Spiders’
‘What Went Down’
‘Two Steps, Twice’