Foals Steal Christmas…and the Show

Sitting on Santa’s lap while watching Foals shred must seem like a scenario to rival your trippiest sugar plum visions, right? Well, I must have made the Nice List this year because that was my reality at Chicago’s The Night We Stole Christmas festival.

Running December 3rd through 6th and featuring steady acts like Twenty One Pilots, Bastille, The Struts, and Silversun Pickups, the four-night lineup yielded a ring of Yuletide cheers throughout the storied Aragon Ballroom. I attended Sunday, the final evening, wrapped in intoxicated denial of the work week ahead. Eager to meet the masters of feisty English rock for a third time, I milled with my concert crew until Highly Suspects surrendered the stage to Foals.

The Oxford natives emerged and started a set that would rouse even Old Saint Nick. First up was “Snake Oil” from their latest album, What Went Down. The five-piece continued to stoke a fiery set with upbeat oldies like “Olympic Airways” and “Two Steps, Twice”, fresh fuel via “Mountain at My Gates” and some in-between pleasers (“Spanish Sahara”, “Providence” and “Inhaler”). With Yannis’ perfected pendulum guitar swing, a dash of effervescence and a bold awareness of “the journey”, these musicians held the room for ransom.

“Providence” has proven a stage favorite and key player in Foals’ arsenal. This performance was no exception. While the rest of the band circled up, mid-track, Yannis wandered into the crowd, extending the crescendo of carnal lyrics and free-form guitar. “I’m an animal just like you. I’m an animal just like you” echoed and accelerated. Even from my post at the very back of the venue, the building energy was infectious. The followers concurred.

The band manages to corral indie rock and dance-punk into one arena with aplomb and maybe some slight negotiating, seizing already enraptured followers and those looking for the missing links in their audio collection.

While their latest release spins like a recap of the previous records, it rumbles with newfound meditations and explorations, sonically and conceptually. Of course, as already alluded to, a live sampling is the best way to witness the band’s evolution – an interactive time capsule complete with enough stamina to shatter even Clark Griswold’s 25,000-bulb display.

In light of all that noise, these gentlemen have now been thrust to the top of my must-see (again…and again) list. Take note.

While Foals are a tough act to follow, Silversun Pickups transcended expectations and not just in the wardrobe department. Nikki Monninger nailed basslines in a shimmering blazer/skirt union, which, combined with the lightshow ricochet, provided a stage-bound disco ball. Totally festive, totally major.

The visual pomp didn’t outshine their skyrocketing sound, though. It merely partnered with satiating performances of new thrills (“Nightlight” and “Circadian Rhythm”), radio favorites (“Panic Switch” and “The Pit”) and the forever crowd-fusing last dance, “Lazy Eye”, a performance which alone could have earned them closing rights.

I left the Uptown venue in a daze. I know who “stole Christmas”, but who snatched the past hours I spent swaying under a star-filled ceiling? Did Krampus join in the ruse? I fumbled around in my pocket for a glove, and instead brushed my ticket – a concrete reminder that all the magic of the night wasn’t just a pipe dream.

I’ll trade a drowsy Monday for that pre-Christmas gift any day.

Where is Meaghan Lee‘s mind? It’s often splashing in a pool of puns, Spotify playlists, or obscure movie quotes. Sometimes she deviates from her primarily monochrome wardrobe. 

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