Sheffield, Leadmill – Tuesday March 26th
Cardiff, Tramshed – Wednesday March 27th
Brighton, Dome – Friday March 29th
Manchester, Albert Hall – Wednesday April 3rd
London, Camden Electric Ballroom – Thursday April 4th
London, Camden Electric Ballroom – Friday April 5th
From the pit in Brighton’s beautiful Dome venue, you could be forgiven for thinking you were at a Haight Ashbury Love-in sometime toward the end of the 1960s – there are hugs, kisses, hand-holding, high-fiving and freaky dancing galore in the sold-out but deliciously spacious venue. All is soft, slow and love as, on stage, the world’s most exciting band fire through impossibly loud, unbearably fast punk rock laced with aggression and empathy.
This is just one of the glorious contradictions that make IDLES the only truly essential live music experience of 2019.
In Sheffield, days earlier, on the opening night of this victory lap run of quickly sold out UK venues following the zeitgeist moment of their top 5 album Joy As An Act Of Resistance and euphoric autumn tour of 2018, we see a band at the top of their game yet struggling against sound issues (which lead to singer Joseph Talbot blowing out his voice on night 1 of a 75+ date tour) and an over-filled room spotted with a suspiciously aggressive contingent of male “fans” whose dedication to “the pit” earns more and more scorn from Talbot as the night, and more broadly, the tour, goes on.
At Sheffield all elements are presents and correct – the incendiary, world-enveloping singalongs to ‘Mother’ and ‘Well Done’; the adrenalin-charged leaps into the crowd from guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan; the metronomic brilliance of drummer Jon Beavis; the growling low-end of bassist Adam Devonshire.
But there’s something unsettling – the love and inclusivity of anthems like ‘Danny Nedelko’ don’t seem to be infecting parts of this audience with their positivity, more offering an opportunity for violence in the name of fun; the set is constructed in an awkward way, ‘Colossus’ making a strangely off-putting mid-set appearance, for instance. The boys aren’t at the merch stand. What gives?!
Happily, we can set aside dickheads being dickheads for the band’s stop-off in Cardiff the following night where, at the Tramshed, everything clicks beautifully into place. Gloriously clear, loud AF sound and the repositioning of ‘Colossus’ as opener help matters hugely and, perhaps for the first time, every single person in the room knows and sings pretty much every word to every song. Full. Body. Chills.
‘Exeter’ makes its return to the set with a couple of young women taking to the stage to take Kiernan and Bowen’s places for the raucous climax and it’s just wonderful – heart-filling, honest and glorious – the stuff of memory indelibly imprinted on the gig-goers mind.
A rare run-out for the brilliant ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ may be sloppy, but it really is a savagely comic highlight – a concise and brutal condemnation of anti-art heathens that simultaneously celebrates creativity while stomping on ignorance. In celebration of a night well spent Talbot pulls off a headstand then leads a chant celebrating the power of yoga. Did we mention the contradictions?
The following week at Manchester’s heavenly Albert Hall we get Idles in the Thunderdome – the upstairs seating so close to the stage it’s almost claustrophobic, the pit (more careful and considered than that of Sheffield) extending from the barrier to the back wall as a sea of humanity intone Talbot’s lyrics loudly enough to occasionally drown out the band.
We get snippets of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and the Nathan Barley-inspired ‘Where’s My Ice Cream’ featuring Bowen on lead vocals and Talbot on guitar. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s endlessly endearing.
When the band hit London for a cruelly oversold run of nights at Camden’s Electric Ballroom they are running at full pace, breathlessly and with boundless energy attacking the stage, enveloping the audience and, obviously, singing the chorus of ‘Lady In Red.’
The power of anti-Brexit chant ‘Great’ and underclass hymn ‘I’m Scum’ are impossible to overestimate. As their respective choruses kick in, 1500+ human beings are instantaneously empowered, momentarily free and united in song.
This is the kind of moment we’ve been waiting for, consciously or not, since the heyday of Nirvana, Bikini Kill, or perhaps Oasis, maybe even The Clash – but, hopefully, without the respective downsides that plagued those bands once their ascent was complete.
The second night in London is, without question, one of the truly iconic and inconceivably impressive nights of live music that venue has ever been lucky enough to play host to. Being there feels genuinely special and it’s easy to see the band feels the same way, their setlist evolving and switching up each night and seeing lesser played tunes like ‘Date Night’ and ‘Queens’ powered out for the hardcore.
In Brighton, overwhelmed by the response of the crowd, Talbot breaks down in tears, taking the mic away from his mouth as he gathers his composure, looking out across a couple of thousand screaming fans and friends. This band is clearly The Real Thing.
Special mention must be given to their support band Crows who, over the five shows we witnessed them play, went from strength to strength, their dark, textured punk rock tearing strands from shoegaze and goth-rock to ultimately achieve a dense, compelling wall of sound complimented by singer James Cox’s bold intensity and held together by bassist Jith Amarasinghe’s astounding foundations. They are becoming quite, quite brilliant.
Did we mention the kissy-faced frenzy of the AFGang meet-ups? The power-punk of rock Gods JOHN at the Sheffield after-party? The increasingly unstable state of the insane mini-crew of fans who went to each and every show on this leg of the tour? (kudos to Simon, Garreth, Knickers and Lindy) Bowen falling in a hole in Brighton, returning to the stage and exclaiming “I nearly died!” then “I’m going back in!”? Joe admitting he’s from Newport at the Cardiff gig? ‘Gotho 1049’ consistently being the most moving piece of live music in recent memory? Talbot’s screaming “Long live the European Union” to deafening applause? There’s a lot to digest here…
As for the rough-housing and booze-throwing that are creeping in to Idles shows now that they’re growing in stature, we’ll paraphrase Joseph, angered by the stupidity of the few – “A coward will throw a drink and not care because no-one can see them, a tyrant will throw it because they know no-one will do anything about it – both can fuck off.” Not too much has changed after all.
Bones, Blood, Flesh, Love, You, Me, Unity. Haight Ashbury’s got nothing on this.