Text Khalid Azizuddin
Images Rizki Maulana
Just a few years ago, JUICE didn’t think we’d ever get to see acts the likes of The Vaccines, Grimes, Mac Demarco, Ólafur Arnalds, and more – artistes we frequently write about – performing anywhere within the country. Rather serendipitously, just as we were about to plunge into another hole in the wallet-inducing excursion to the little island that could, the Upfront series was conceived. Finally, one less reason for us to cross the causeway for good international bands – Malaysia isn’t left out in their touring circuits anymore! Now expected to reach for a crowd beyond the pax its namesake would suggest, the series has evolved into Upfront Arena: a full-blown concert at a bigger venue catering up to 3,000 people.
Oxford quintet, Foals played at KL Live as the first of the Upfront Arena series lineup for 2014. Ostensibly, this does not seem particularly newsworthy – an indie band playing (recently) cool KL city, now a genuine presence on the Asian circuit. To some however, this was a happening. Debut Antidotes soundtracked the rather odd year of 2008 with its angsty and angular take on guitar pop. It sounded ridiculously cool, so far removed from the stifling confines of the suburbs and newly established routines of adulthood. The charms of the capital had proven insufficient and substitutes were sought in lieu. Over their next two albums, Foals began letting air into previously hermetic song structures, untangling the circular, interlocking rhythmic motifs that very much informed their debut. Throughout, however, they continued to attract critical acclaim whilst keeping a consistency of identity.
It was very much a Malaysian evening, two-week-old smog curtaining the aluminium skyline. Inside, the venue was teeming with people all vaguely acquainted. They didn’t have to wait long, an ascending bass line alternated with Psycho violin screeches heralded the four. Led by the swarthy front man, they crossed the stage and opened with the curvy funk of ‘Total Life Forever’, a mid-career highlight. Music like this was meant to be played in enclosed structures; the kick drum hit high in the chest, snares sharply reverberated, and clean guitar riffs hung and bounced off the low ceiling, almost visible.
The organisers have done very well. Perhaps it was because they have never played here, but Foals did a thorough job of airing their back catalogue, playing ‘Balloons’, ‘Hummer’, ‘Two Steps Twice’, ‘Red Sock Pugie’, and ‘Olympic Airways’. On their first televised appearance (Later with Jools Holland), they played ‘Red Sock Pugie’ in a tight semi-circle facing inward, no gaps. Perhaps this insularity was necessary for the entwining riffs, disparate parts moving in lockstep. But when the same was played that night, they spanned the far reaches of the stage, facing outward, finally willing to let others in.
Proceedings came to a feverish head as the reverb soaked intro of ‘Inhaler’ was played. With a manic glint in his eyes, Yannis purred the opening line “Sticks and stones…“, clearly relishing the havoc about to be wreaked. A deep oblong rift formed within the crowd, a few brave souls keeping the heaving human tide at bay until “… and I can’t get enough – space.” Shoulders up and hands cupped, skinny indoor types collided in a rare display of physical aptitude. At some point during the night, Yannis told the crowd “This is one for the old times, for those who have stuck around (not a verbatim recollection).”
Closure always comes at a price, but rarely has it been this satisfying.
Supported by Tiger, Upfront Arena Pres. Foals went down on Tuesday 4 March ’14 at KL Live.
More photos here.