Live Reviews: Foals, Liars and Nada Surf

This week, we have three reviews from three different cities, yet all three bands reviewed have either recently been in Seattle (Liars) or will be making their way through shortly. In fact, you can see Foals this Saturday at Chop Suey for a FREE show with The Heavenly States and Sleepy Eyes of Death, and Nada Surf, who just played a mainly acoustic show at the Triple Door, will return to play the Showbox at the end of March.

  • Foals, Bowery Ballroom, NYC 2/12/2008 by Sheryl Witlen
  • Liars, The Metro, Chicago 2/5/08 by Gina Pantone
  • Nada Surf, Triple Door, Seattle 1/30/08 by Chona Kasinger

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Foals, Bowery Ballroom, New York City 2/12/2008:

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review by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Nicole Steinberg

The disgusting weather conditions New Yorkers had to endure on the evening of Foals‘ first show in the city since October (for CMJ) made their performance even more of a celebration than it already was destined to be. Despite their acclaim abroad, stateside they still remain one the best kept secrets in music. Yes, Foals performed during CMJ madness as a live in-studio on the airwaves for KEXP listeners AND played a free Brooklynvegan showcase at Pianos AND a show at Williamsburg Music Hall… yet they have continued to fly just below radar.

That is about to change. As I write this, my ears are still ringing from the feverish chanting of the crowd packed into a steamy Bowery Ballroom, all clapping and a-flutter for an encore from these five boys from England. Why, you ask, did it take us New Yorkers so long to wake up to Foals, these young musicians who assault your senses and furtively sock you over the head with their brilliantly beyond loud sound and spirited performances? The only explanation I can find is sometimes we jaded New Yorkers need a healthy dose of musical education. For a band with an upcoming debut release and only a few visits to the States under their belts, they are ablaze with creativity and muscle, which comes together to from one of the loudest and tightest outfits in music to date.

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Edwin Congreave (keyboards), Walter Gervers (bass), Jimmy Smith (guitar) and Jack Bevan (drums) do not so much as back vocalist Yannis Philippakis (also on guitar) as egg him on. They seem to feed his energy as he rips through his songs, pausing shortly to vomit on the side of the stage before calmly returning to complete the set. You might not have even noticed his sickness if you were standing in the back, but it was nothing short of fueling their youthful rock star appearance. Quick on the draw with their instruments yet insanely tight and obviously hard working, they retain that impressionable joy at performing in this historical space. Simply judging by the heightened volume of the audience’s approval after each song, it was clear that they made a lasting impression if not inspired awe. From the moment they took their places on stage to the last second before they exited after their one-song encore, they had us eating out of their sweat-stained English palms. Rabid with affection, we applauded and chanted, hoping for performance to continue into the late evening hours. Theirs is a show delivered simply, overflowing with pure talent and energy without a single trick along the way.

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What you see with Foals is what you get. They clutch their guitars tightly and close to their hearts, directly channeling their inner demons and affections creating a pure chemical reaction both in sound and experience. They are what Bloc Party would sound like if they experienced a panic attack in a small space with no way to escape. Simply put, they are explosive and cathartic. Those around me giggled their arms, slapped their legs and stomped their feet, gaining more momentum with each song. Whispers about how “unbelievably good they were” and questions like “Where have they been?” and “How long have they been around?” circled the venue, gathering in clouds of conversation that carried unto the busy streets of Delancey and Bowery. And the band seemed to enjoy themselves. Maybe playing at approximately 6AM their time is a good thing. They seemed crisp and fresh, the very picture of the best in UK rock and roll. Smiling and engaging with those gathered against the stage towards the end of the set, they expressed their gratitude for the affectionate applause and announced their plans to return in late May. I for one can hardly wait.

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The Many Perils of Office Furniture — Liars’ Altered States Lead to Letdown:

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review by Gina Pantone
photos by Rory O’Connor

It is difficult to make an office chair rock. Yes, it has swivel capabilities, padding for maximum support for extra gyrating and adjustable settings for any height — but last Tuesday at Chicago’s Metro, even the feral Liars frontman Angus Andrew could not pull off punk-on-wheels.

Rendered temporarily immobile from the strenuous task of picking up throw pillows in his home, Andrew has been resting his weakened back for this leg of the tour — considerably modifying the usual live Liars aesthetic. Drummer Julian Gross and resident kitchen sink instrumentalist Aaron Hemphill set the tone on the dark stage, banging simultaneous drums as the crowd prepared for an uncertain performance. Andrew hobbled onstage; a towering beanpole of a man clad in a suit and tie, and took his seat as if in an invisible cubicle.

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At first, the fact he was attempting his usual antics frozen in a seat was novel — as he was trying quite hard but in obvious discomfort. Songs from their latest self-titled (and immensely poppier) record soared in some cases and bombed in others. New track “Clear Island” was its usual catchy self with Hemphill’s dramatic feedback interjections and Andrew occasionally flailing his arms wildly.

However, the night’s slight uneasiness became evident with the single “Houseclouds.” Within the first verse their trademark solid rhythm was not in synch, causing near derailment, but was saved by Andrew’s soaring falsetto.

Once it was time for the experimental goodness of their older work, Liars snapped into place — breaking into metallic percussion, pounding like steel cables snapping on “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own” from second album We Were Wrong, So We Drowned. Andrew rallied the audience like the Pied Piper’s of Weird into Liars favorite crowd participatory chant: “fly, fly the devil’s in your eye shoot shoot!”

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After everyone had rallied, Liars were ready to break out material from the acclaimed conceptual 2006 album Drum’s Not Dead. Andrew became increasingly annoyed with his chaired status during the slow, maniacal record opener “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack!” and began waving his thumbs in the air in some sort of attempt to eat his appendages. Gross and Hemphill hit their drums as if trying to break through the stage floor, weaving in and out of unison.

As expected, tracks from Drum’s Not Dead remained responsible for set highlights — Andrew attempting to stand up and shimmy to a brilliant “It Fit When I was a Kid,” the percussion thundering like a slave ship in hell.

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Sadly, it was the newer songs that suffered tremendously — anticipatory live tracks like “Freak Out” and “Plaster Casts of Everything” — selections that should to be fail proof in a live setting were rendered to a banal effort. Perhaps it was the energy taken away due to a wounded Andrews or that the show was scheduled in the midst of a crippling gray Chicago snowstorm, significantly decreasing the venue’s patrons — but in the end it was Liars’ past that ruled the night.

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Nada Surf, Triple Door, Seattle 1/30/08

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review and photos by Chona Kasinger

My verging near obsession with Barsuk all-stars and Brooklyn based Nada Surf reached its peak Wednesday night at the Triple door as I sat (unknowingly) in line for valet parking in front of the Triple Doors drenched sidewalk. Six floors and five minutes of excruciating frigid cold later, I walked into the sold out grounds of Seattle’s finest, The Triple Door. I spied at least half of local band The Long Winters amongst the other audience members that night.

The hat and visor donning Port O’ Brien fitted the bill exquisitely as their war, folkish sounds flooded the venue. The former tour mates of Rogue Wave (who in turn supported Nada Surf in years past) set up Nada Surf’s playing field with their low-fi, beatnik vibe.

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Charming as ever, Daniel, Matthew, and Ira (sporting a new never-before-seen mustache) swiftly took the stage and without so much as a chair scrape kicked off into “Happy Kid,” one of the many standout tracks on their 2004 release Let Go.

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The auxiliary string and piano accompaniments were brilliant additions to already perfectly crafted indie-pop goodness. Lucky is sure to prove a contender in the band’s 10+ year of span in the spotlight. How often do you get to see your favorite rock band leaning back on folding metal chairs, mellowing it out acoustic? The soft candor in Caw’s voice and lyrics have surely earned him a position in the ranks of Ben Gibbard, John Vanderslice, and John Darnielle.

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The night ended in an encore of “The Blankest Year,” during which myself, a superfan buddy, and a personal friend of the band accompanied the band onstage and danced away. Wednesday night marked my fifth time seeing this band live. A vastly different experience than their other shows, Nada Surf’s raw acoustic performance melted hearts, not faces, as we’ve all seen Matthew is capable of doing with his fret board wrecking solos. The low key performance well suited the Triple Door’s open, yet hospitable and intimate space.

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