A weekend before the United States general election filled with music? Yes, please. Not only is a worthy distraction needed, but an act to calm people down should always be welcomed. This glorious autumn weekend up in Washington Heights was a perfect spot for some great musical art. At the cathedral cultural center, the United Palace Theater (UPT), the British band Foals and their contemporaries Bear Hands and Kiev made sure to break into wonderment with their music for the evening.
Listeners traveling uptown were met with a slight, but extremely chilly fall breeze as they zipped up their jackets to trek towards the venue. It was hard to imagine that just a few days prior it was 70 degrees in New York City. Passing fellow citizens of the night, fans were led to a giant building right off Broadway. Grabbing a patriotic colored wristband and going through security was a piece of cake. Naturally, the path indoors led patrons straight to the bars. Then again, for most who have been to the UPT before, drinks were the first priority.
However, for attendees gracing the halls of the theater for the first time, they often stopped in their tracks with their jaws dropped in absolute marvel of the space. Even the lobby with its golden and intricately carved walls, banisters, pillars and stairways were astonishingly beautiful. There was no doubt that the space held a spiritual feeling from the second one entered. After ordering a drink, kind ushers led listeners to their red velvet seats. Of course, very few of these individuals sat down right away. Their phones came out to capture even more carvings on the ceilings, walls and everything in between. On the ceiling arc above the stage, a glowing rainbow backdrop stayed lit all night as beacons from nearby glistening statues stared down to the audience below. Every holy glare was hard to ignore. Even the tiny disco ball above the stage felt more powerful than any other in existence. The UPT was definitely larger than both The Beacon Theater and Radio City Music Hall, which was amazing in itself.
Initially, the crowd was small and dispersed. With two openers beforehand, it was understandable. Many kept their jackets on as there was a slight draft in the building. Kiev came out first all hairy and wonderful to start off the show. They were the band of beards and pure trance heaven. Their unbelievable and deafening bass-work made everyone feel everything down to their bones. This started the ever growing congregation of fans to the front of the stage. Despite security’s efforts to keep the space clear, the mob gradually took over. When Bear Hands came on, their self-titled tapestry in bright blue letters hung proudly behind them. Their music was a more varied experience with initial distorted madness. The vocals were oddly silent and when the volume did increase it was for a period of some energetic spoken word rap. All of the harmonies were interesting here. Between the two openers, there was such an interesting mix of music and genres.
Finally, the men of the hour were set to begin. Prior to the appearance of, Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith, Edwin Congreave and Walter Gervers, a forest backdrop was lowered with a lone figure silhouetted in the scene. A beating bass introduction that reverberated for a bit welcomed the band on stage. A guitar began to wail with a slight twinkle of melodies. With a crash, all of the rest of the instruments came out with full flair. Cheers and intense yells followed. Most of the men were aptly dressed in all black, save for their lead guitarist in white. The flow, which stayed throughout the show, was that of a constantly wailing of the strings. At times, there were slight twangs that changed frequencies all the while. Unlike most bands, the men got down with their music early on and kept it that way. Hell, even the crowd shared the sentiments as they were on the move with their bodies and wide smiles.
Foals must have turned on some hard rock switch that was only that much more intensified thanks to the dizzying strobe lights. The wails simply never stopped! Almost every song and vocal arrangement relied heavily on the lasting and ethereal echoes. Again, the bass was so strong that the clothes on people’s backs were vibrating. Vocals were soulful along the rustic grunge of the music at hand. One song after the next unleashed a sort of grinding pleasure that was met with clashing crashes. Even with these moments taking over, the beat never died and remained easily danceable. Every vocal was met with expressive hand movements in the air or were devoted to caressing the microphone.
As the set wore on, the darkness crept in for some songs. This unveiled the statues in the bannisters in a more enlightened state. They glowed and seemed to be watching over everyone in that room. The ever present riff of slight guitars usually transitioned to even more crazy wails. Was there a dash of disco music thrown into the mix? If so, it was a pleasant surprise as the lead singer ran through the aisles of the crowd and back for a little entertaining exercise. With fists and waving hands in the air, it was hard not to accept the musical preachings going on. The poor security guards all along the aisles were trying their best to keep everyone safe, but were frustrating many of the fans who simply wanted to enjoy the show. When the lights were shown from behind the stage, the band’s shadows were stretched along the walls with golden glory. Wild thumping even got some of the security guards dancing! Every yell of passion on stage excited the audience. The men had their eyes closed with their heads bobbing to the music. It was all a climatic cacophony of sound. Soulful thumps and dance music were matched beautifully. People never stopped swaying in the night, even when the show ended.
Foals somehow found a way to mix in rock, alternative, dance, trance, hard rock and so much more into their set of wondrous music. Every bit of it had entertaining guitar licks, echoed vocals and engaging beats. With a full house, it was the perfect way to the spend the weekend. Fans were sure feeling the effects of the night several days later. Undoubtedly, none complained.
Photo Credit: Neil Krug