Foals (Oxford, England, UK), Freelance Whales (Queens, New York) and The Naked and Famous(New Zealand)
May 6th, 2011
9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Only in Washingtonwould the president’s cardboard twin make an appearance at a rock concert. The grinning 2-D commander-in-chief graced the VIP balcony of the 9:30 Club briefly as the only American band of the night, Freelance Whales, took the stage. The Whales were preceded byNew Zealandgroup The Naked and Famous and followed by British headliners Foals.

The Naked and Famous eased the crowd into their set with a quieter, ambient number, only to crank up the volume with their second song, “Punching in a Dream.” Much of the flannel-clad audience seemed to be having trouble not dancing to the synth-laden tune that rattled the venue. Yes, even the double-fisting guy attempting to do the robot.

The dancing continued and band got everyone clapping along with “Spank,” before moving on to a couple quieter numbers before bringing the energy back up with “Young Blood” to close out their half-hour set.

The Kiwis got some appreciation for their homeland from the crowd – they acknowledged one New Zealand flag-waving fan near the stage, and another yelled, “Love you, New Zealand!” between songs.

Freelance Whales opened their performance with “Generator^1st Floor,” a song that’s been gaining popularity thanks to its catchy vocals and an appearance in an ad for a certain coffee chain. Unfortunately, unlike the preceding band, the Queens-based group’s set didn’t pick up and the audience became lethargic and that wasn’t the only problem.

The set was plagued by unpleasant microphone feedback. The folky banjo and glockenspiel that so nicely accent their studio work was drowned out, leaving listeners with a sound that was too driven by synthesizers for their music. And sandwiched between the energetic performances of the other bands, the cutesy love songs just didn’t fit.

Oddly, a chunk of the audience left following the yawn-inducing set, seemingly unintrigued by Whales frontman Judah Dadone’s promise of “beautiful and violent things” from Foals. Those who stayed were, without a doubt, rewarded for their endurance.

Don’t let the quietness of their two studio albums fool you. Live, Foals produce rattle-in-your-chest rock that will leave your ears ringing for days. Days.

The beautiful part that Dadone mentioned was instantly apparent – these guys put on one of the best rock shows this reviewer has seen or heard in a long time. Not only does the band’s music translate wonderfully from album to live, but it’s versatile, allowing the musicians to deviate and add something new. “Total Life Forever” featured phenomenal solo from lead guitarist Jimmy Smith that not only rocked, but also kept the crowd dancing.

Drummer Jack Bevan played with enough force that the audience should have been knocked over with ever hit of his snare.

The violence Dadone spoke of wasn’t immediately on display, but it did come out about five songs into the Foals set. Smith downed what those of us near the back can only assume was the last half of a beer and triumphantly chucked the empty cup across the stage. He spent the rest of the show tossing his lanky frame around the stage.

Lead singer Yannis Philippakis spent most of the show with his eyes buried behind his mop of curly hair, which he continuously shook around. On two occasions he scaled the stacks of amplifiers on either side of the stage, the first time swinging himself over the balcony railing, guitar slung behind his back, and resumed to playing while he retreated into the VIP room. The second time, he leapt back onto the stage.

By the last two songs of their main set, the band had worked the audience into a cheering and dancing frenzy. On “Electric Bloom” Philippakis put down his guitar to pitch in on drums, which he attacked just as furiously as Bevan, letting his sticks fly into the air with his last strike.

During their three-song encore, the band became even more raucous, becoming almost animalistic in their performance, bringing an assault to the senses in the best possible way.

They left the stage quickly, leaving a guitar up against an amp to reverb while the audience cheered.

The photos in this post were taken by Chris Stoppiello at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on May 2.

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