Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Concert Coverage - Foals & Surfer Blood, May 19, Turner Hall

May has been an exceptionally great month for live music around Milwaukee, and on May 19th the walls of Turner Hall were rattled by the English band Foals.

The Los Angeles group Blondfire took the stage promptly at 8 pm, and performed tracks from their debut EP, Where the Kids Are to near perfection. The crowd was a little lackluster, assumedly due to unfamiliarity with the material. But allow me to tell you the band was a great fit for the bill, which went from dream pop to surfer punk to brit alt by the end of the night. Without Blondfire on the bill, the show may have lost a little of its gleam and energy.

Surfer Blood has been one of my favorite studio acts since they released their album Astro Coast in 2010, yet somehow I'd never seen them perform live. To be honest, I was a little turned off and nervous to see their live act, as the group had released a live DVD with the deluxe bundle of their last EP, Tarot Classics. The live set was a little lackluster, and not really what I was hoping to see from a band whose albums were so cohesive and well put together. Frontman JP Pitts seemed to somehow be too shaky with the delivery of his vibrato, and used it too often. Thus, I was a little nervous about how their set would go.

I'm happy to say that I couldn't have been more relieved at the end of their set, as Surfer Blood's show was a "Voyager Reprise" away from perfection. Surfer Blood opened their set with "Floating Vibes" and followed it with "Twin Peaks" to take it up a notch. The group would then go in to "Say Yes To Me" off of their upcoming LP, Pythons; the track that not a lot of people have heard, and I think it really represents the movement in which the band is headed, so check the song out here.

Following "Say Yes..." the band went into "Demon Dance" the lead single off of Pythons, and played it to perfection. JP's vocal ability has definitely taken a turn for the better, and it is demonstrated in this song, as well as their live sets. "Demon Dance" features a bridge in which JP shows his punk vocal chops by screaming "Apologies, mean apologies/ We can Demon Dance all night/ Teeth as white as snow, in the vertigo/ Caked in phosphorescent light." The shouting is a welcome discourse from their previous material, and JP seems to really have locked in to his vocal stylings, boasting confidently as his range has expanded a little, and not overdoing his vibrato.

Surfer Blood would then play two of my favorites, "Miranda" and "Catholic Pagans" although the crowd was a little lethargic during "Miranda" which was somewhat disappointing. This may have prompted JP's next move: after getting the band's traditional mouse/cat makeup (consisting of a dot on the nose and whiskers drawn on JP by the band's guitarist, Thomas Fekete - familiar to those who follow SB's Instagram feed), JP would climb off of the Turner Hall stage and wander around the crowd while singing "Take it Easy" from Astro Coast and casually taking drags from his e-cigarette. After moseying around for a little bit, JP made his way to me, threw his arm around me and allowed me to sing one of my favorite tracks with him... a true fanboy dream come true.

After climbing back on stage, the group would go on to play a few new songs, including one I'd yet to hear, "Slow Six" (the B-Side to "Demon Dance") and "Weird Shapes" making me incredibly excited to get my hands on the new album as soon as possible.

Surfer Blood would close with "Swim" and "Drinking Problem" the latter featuring an incredibly good distortion-filled jam session, highlighting the fact that these guys know what they're doing up there.

And it'd be easy to say that Surfer Blood stole the show, except they're touring with Foals, a band that pours an incredible amount of passion and energy into their live sets.

The last time the group was in town, frontman Yannis climbed from the stage to the balcony, and those that have been to Turner Hall know that it's a good 15-20 feet above stage. Although there weren't any crazy theatrics like that this time around, the show was still ridiculously good. I haven't felt the floors move up and down like that in quite a while.

Foals ripped through a set containing highlights from all three of their albums, opening with the opening "Prelude" from Holy Fire and going right in to "Total Life Forever", the title track from their second LP which has one of the best guitar intros of any of their songs and a chorus that begs the crowd to sing along. The set would go on to include Antidotes' "Olympic Airways" and "Red Socks Pugie"; some favorites from Total Life Forever including "Miami" "Spanish Sahara" and my favorite song of theirs, "Blue Blood". The rest of their set was riddled with highlights from Holy Fire, including "My Number" "Milk & Black Spiders" and "Late Night".

The thing about Foals' studio recordings is that the songs come across as dramatic and epic, usually featuring looping high pitched guitar effects and stirring echoing vocals. This translates to perfection in their live set on Sunday, making one feel as if they were taking part in a horror film.

But the set would not go without drama, at least for the writer of this article. During their encore, the band would rip through "Stepson" and go in to their lead single "Inhaler" (a song I've never been wild about, as it sounds too alternative, and did during the show as well). It was during this song that a patron of the show began crowd surfing, something I usually have no problem with, and was surprised he was the first of the evening. However, someone around me fell to the ground, taking me down with them, bringing me down backwards with them. I landed directly on my tailbone, not being able to break my fall as I was holding the camera I was using that night.

I got up, and was immediately nauseous and had some blurred vision. Turns out I suffered a concussion that night, the first of my life, and am even going through some pains today as I write this article. I was left to collect my wits while the band closed with "Two Steps Twice"

Nevertheless, the show was impeccable. The triple bill was one of the best I'd seen in a long time, and will go down as one of the best Milwaukee has to offer in 2013; a show to remember, concussion or no concussion.

The triple bill of Blondfire, Surfer Blood, and Foals will continue touring the US through the next couple of weeks and into June. Check out the tour dates below.

05-29 Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom 
05-30 Vancouver, British Columbia - Commodore 
05-31 Seattle, WA - Neptune
06-03 Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot 
06-04 Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre 
06-05 Lawrence, KS - Granada 
06-07 St. Louis, MO - Pageant 
06-09 Pittsburgh, PA - Mr. Smalls
06-11 Baltimore, MD - Ram's Head
06-12 Asheville, NC - Orange Peel

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