In the real-life palace hidden in Washington Heights, the ornate glittering walls, carved in the shape of lions and birds, were lit only by the purple and orange light seeping through the spaces in between. Fans filed into United Palace Theatre and eased into its velvet seats, craving Foals’ set and the music that would come before it. The whole show was framed in gold and smoke.
Opening band Kiev managed to pull everyone’s eyes off the elaborate ceilings, embarking on eclectic, climactic little trips with free-spirited progressions. The multitalented 4-piece, fronted by keyboardist and saxophonist Andrew Stavas, worked their way into a nice jam, pulling back on the vocals to focus on their meandering sound. It was a solid start, and Kiev soon pulled in the crowd they deserved.
Of course, there were acoustic challenges to playing in such a vast space. Second opener Bear Hands tackled the distance with snappy impacts and distorted vocals, the 5-piece working to carry their feel-good tracks to the furthest seats in the room. While they sometimes sounded a bit far away, their faster songs closed the gap, and the music from their newest album, You’ll Pay For This, made a connection with the crowd. Lead singer Dylan Rau’s chipped blue fingernail polish was the only grungy thing about their bright and nostalgic electropop set.
The darkened stage, bathed in thick purple light, came to life for Foals with glaring white strobes, illuminating the upraised hands of their fans. The screams swirled around Yannis Philippakis, who led the Oxford indie rockers with his voice, guitar, and, more than anything, his stage presence. The 5-piece maintained the same setlist of their tour, opening with the suspenseful “Prelude” before diving into “Snake Oil,” “Olympic Airways,” and “My Number.” But, in a way, the show didn’t start until drummer Jack Bevan leapt up onto his set, silhouetted in smoke and clicking his sticks.
Foals battled the same acoustic fuzz within the theatre’s cavernous walls, though they came out on top in the end. Even so, it was a challenge that highlighted the dichotomy of their discography, with their newer, poppier hits sounding noticeably more tame than their older and bolder stuff. But they were perhaps more limited by the delicate, vintage design of the space. Where Yannis should have been hanging upside down from the balcony, you could tell from one look at the gilded embellishments that he wouldn’t make it down without a chunk of the room in his hand.
But they adapted to the space and served up a good show, their last half-dozen songs the strongest of all. Closing with “Inhaler” and an encore of “What Went Down” and “Two Steps, Twice,” Foals embodied the murky, immersive sound that their fans are so obsessed with. Yannis even got a chance to impart some wisdom before the upcoming week’s election. “There’s something big coming up in the next couple of days,” he urged, “and I hope you’re all gonna go out and do the right fucking thing, if you know what I’m saying.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley