Tim Hughes reviews a heroes' return for Yannis Philippakis and co.

It was one of the best-kept secrets in Oxford’s musical history: one of the city’s, and the world’s, biggest bands launching a global tour with something it hadn’t done in ages — a hometown show.

When the announcement came, last Friday, that Foals were playing an intimate gig the next night at the ex- Zodiac (the smaller, upstairs room at the O2 Academy) excitement hit fever pitch. The boys were back in town — and everyone wanted to be part of it.

When tickets went on sale at 10am the next day, queues predictably stretched down Cowley Road. For those who secured a coveted ticket, though, it was more than worth it.

The atmosphere crackled as the crowd, buoyed by a support slot by former collaborator Andrew Mears’ band Pet Moon, waited for their heroes to emerge.

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Calm before the storm. Picture: Giulia Biasibetti

When they did, frontman Yannis Philippakis, bass player Walter Gervers, keyboardist Edwin Congreave, guitarist and keyboardist Jimmy Smith, and drummer Jack Bevan, looked as excited as the capacity crowd of fans, friends and OX4 hipsters who were rammed into the already steamy room.

They launched into a super-tight set alternating with gems from Total Life Forever and Holy Fire. Title track Total Life Forever was followed by My Number, Miami, Milk & Black Spiders and After Glow.

“It’s good to be home,” Yannis told the crowd,” before splashing water on head — and into the crowd — already a boiling mass of arms and a few legs. “We appreciate you queuing,” he said later. “We haven’t played here for a while, so wanted to make sure we did... and play a small, sweaty, sticky box like this!”

For a band whose CV includes the Royal Albert Hall, it was very sweaty and sticky. But, since their early shows at The Cellar and Truck Festival, Foals have always been at their best in an intimate setting, and they have never sounded, or looked, better — a sweating Yannis, T-shirt sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, feeding off the kinetic energy as the set veered between ‘80s-flavoured electro, indie, math-rock, dream-pop and metal.

“This song’s about savagery,” says Yannis, diving into a stark Providence with the visceral lyrics “I know I cannot be true, I’m an animal just like you, Oh I’ll bleed just a little bit too, Oh I’ll bleed just like you.”

The seminal moment came with slow-burner Spanish Sahara, during which almost the entire crowd sat on the floor as if under a spell, only rising as the dream-pop became subsumed in a wall of bubbling electronica and guitars.

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Holy Fire: Yannis Philippakis. Picture: Giulia Biasibetti

Our reward came with a treat from debut album Antidotes, the driving and impossibly rhythmic Red Socks Pugie — Bevan’s ferocious virtuoso drumming at the fore. Then, after a gentle interlude courtesy of Late Night came latest album highlight: the scuzzy, grungy, skyscraping Inhaler; Yannis yelling like The Cure’s Robert Smith after a Berocca and Red Bull overdose.

With that they left the stage, but the best was yet to come as the encore kicked off with the song that made us love them in the first place, Hummer, followed by the pulsing, chiming Two Steps, Twice — Yannis leaving the stage and walking through the crowd before coolly mounting the bar, continuing to play, then leaping into the sea of arms. He didn’t miss a chord as fans held him aloft and, after a scenic tour of the room, gently deposited him back onstage.

As a finale, it doesn’t come bigger. Foals were back in town, and they made sure we remembered it. Any doubts as to the gratitude they owe to their home city were shattered.

“Every single one of these songs...” said Yannis “...we wrote them in Oxford.” Local heroes indeed!

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Ear for detail: Yannis takes the mic. Picture: Giulia Biasibetti