Friday at the Neptune, Foals demonstrated why they’re a band on the rise.
The quintet hails from Oxford, an English university town with a knack for melodic guitar-rock. It’s where Radiohead, Ride and Supergrass got their start in the ‘90s, and where Foals formed in 2005. Since then, the group’s style has grown from concise, noodly post-punk — danceable, but forgettable — into something more significant.
Produced by Flood of U2 “The Joshua Tree” fame, Foals’ third album “Holy Fire” is the sound of a band whose songwriting is fast catching up to its ambitions. (Remember, Radiohead existed for 11 years before making “OK Computer.”) Friday’s sellout crowd seemed to agree, warmly welcoming the new material.
Singer-guitarist Yannis Philippakis, guitarist Jimmy Smith, drummer Jack Bevan, keyboardist Edwin Congreave and seven-foot-tall bassist Walter Gervers didn’t say much, letting their airtight performance — and Philippakis’ mid-range moan, equal parts The Cure’s Robert Smith and Coldplay’s Chris Martin — speak for itself.
On “Inhaler,” played second, guitars and synths fought to the death à la Peter Gabriel’s incendiary “Sledgehammer.” With spine-tingling guitar interplay and a bassline that inverts Talking Heads’ “Making Flippy Floppy,” up-tempo single “My Number” would’ve translated just as well in a New York club circa 1983 as it did in a Seattle concert hall in 2013. (Coincidentally, the David Byrne-fronted band’s essential “Speaking in Tongues” turned 30 Friday.)
The ebb-and-flow setlist charted Foals’ evolution from disco-punk agitators to arena-ready entertainers. 2011 hit “Spanish Sahara” merged New Wave goth navel-gazing with post-rock drama fit for “Friday Night Lights” game-day scenes. “Holy Fire’s” distant, menacing “Providence” at once recalled ‘80s singer-songwriter Arthur Russell and modern math-rockers Battles.
When Phillippakis appeared on the Neptune balcony during closer “Two Steps, Twice,” clambering fans ranged from teenage couples armed with iPhones to grayhairs old enough to have caught Byrne, Smith and U2’s Bono in their prime.
Foals’ music doesn’t break new ground, but it’s catching on. Tickets are still available for the group’s Saturday encore show.
Attendees needn’t hurry to the U-District for openers Surfer Blood, however. The Floridians’ set — inspired by Morrissey, but more reminiscent of ‘90s also-rans The Smoking Popes — elicited neutral shrugs from early arrivals.