So there’s this band called Idles. You might have heard of them. Caused a bit of a fuss by getting a top five album in the proper album charts. They try and promote a philosophy of love and acceptance and support but others question their motives, principles, and origins as if they’re the bastions of the moral high ground.
But never mind that. We’re at the legendary (if they do say so themselves) Electric Ballroom in Camden Town for the first night of a three-night residency for the Bristol boys off the back of their cataclysmic second L.P Joy As An Act Of Resistance.
The AF Gang are out in force, there’s a jovial atmosphere all around, and oh look, there’s frontman Joe Talbot embracing a friend by the bar and there’s bassist Adam ‘Dev’ Devonshire manning the merch stall.
Leave your egos at the door, and preferably your mobiles so you don’t film the whole thing (and you might lose it in the ensuing melee anyway) and let’s dance.
Not before the doom-laden ‘Colossus’ slowly kicks things off “I am my father’s son, his shadow weighs a ton” is foreboding but is almost a joke as it precedes ‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’ which is an infectious bouncy shout-a-long “A heathen, from Eaton, on a bag of Michael Keaton” about meatheads down your local who drink eight pints of Stella and then want to bash some heads in. But in a really fun way.
A bloke called Daniel shouts for ‘Well Done’ but more about that later.
It’s a little pointless to point out the paradox between the message of looking after each other in the midst of violent music and reflex on stage but it’s all done with a huge grin on everyone’s faces, especially guitarist Mark “Bobo” Bowen, who tonight is respectfully dressed in a pair of shorts as opposed to the briefs or boxers he normally dons. He twists and distorts himself to the point he can’t cope and removes his guitar and throws himself into the crowd. In fact, there are times when it seems his instrument is an unwelcome irritant and a stagehand has to follow him around as if imploring him to take it back and play it. Maybe it’s their manager.
Everything is held together by Dev and drummer Jon Beavis, as other guitarist Lee isn’t much better throwing his head back and letting his long hair fall nearly hitting the floor and then lurching forward towards the crowd throwing the neck of his Telecaster around with gay abandon.
The ferocity of Idles as a live act is incredible, the new record being a more nuanced and carefully written collection. The rampant thunderous heaviness is similar to the debut but there are more sing-a-longs more emotion, something to cling onto, to own. ‘Samaritans’, ‘Love Song’, ‘I’m Scum’, ‘Great’, ‘Television’, they have universal themes that are front and centre, heart on their sleeves, heart pumping, adrenalin rising joyous rage and love.
Not all Idles fans agree but JAAAOR is a step forward. It’s more immediate. It appeals to the greater. Brutalism is just that. Brutal. Understandably coming after the death of Joe’s mother. Joy… speaks to everyone in broken Britain that isn’t reveling in the mess and tonight and every night on this tour is a few hours to come together and celebrate the good things in life.
So towards the end of the set, Joe calls out for Daniel again and gets him up on stage, for his wish is coming true; it’s time for ‘Well Done’.
Except Joe can’t be arsed with singing it so gives him the mic and backs away. To his credit, Daniel knows the song off by heart, but you’d expect that if you shout out for it loud enough. His impression of Joe is impressive, but it’s more the act of getting him on stage, the sentiment behind it, much like when during ‘Exeter’they have a group of girls waiting in the wings to come on stage and join in. Guitars are passed to them (Bobo’s is on the floor waiting naturally), they look nervous but soon realise they don’t need to know how to play it. Inclusivity. It’s a family. And fuck knows we need one in this divisive and divided island of ours.
Joe can’t help but have a little dig at the detractors, wondering if Sleaford Mods or Slaves have an Ocado Account. Tongue firmly wedged in cheek but you wonder why there are those that feel the need to pick holes in people who just want to make people happy and spread a bit of love?
They end with the expected drawn out ‘Rottweiler’, introduced as a song against “…the right-wing fascist media cunts”. Joe departs as the rest descend into a wall of feedback, Bobo on the drums screaming something indecipherable into the mic as Lee throws himself about the stage. How no gigs have been canceled due to injury is a miracle.
If you leave that without a smile on your face then you’re dead inside. Or a politician. Or both.
All is Love.
Images by Jamie MacMillan