On Wednesday, October 24th 2018, Bristol’s finest IDLES proved that there are 101 reasons why they truly are the most culturally relevant,and significant band the UK has to offer right now, but more than that, they proved that they might just be the best live band going.
This wasn’t the best gig I’ve ever seen in my life. No, no, no. This 18 song masterpiece of a set might just have been the best THING I’ve ever seen. IDLES own everything in front of them, every man and woman transfixed on this beautiful unfolding chaos, everyone united, safe, sharing in the common ideology that live music with such passion and energy is the truest escape from the world outside the four walls of Leeds University’s 1200 capacity Stylus. Expertly supported by another Bristolian whirl-wind Heavy Lungs, whose frontman Danny Nedelko commanded an authority over the crowd that many support bands find a challenge, there is one word to sum up this IDLES tour that I’m sure everyone present would agree with me on. Joy.
As the clocks struck 9pm, the lights cut, the sense of expectation and lust in the crowd soared, and then Jon Beavis did what everyone present yearned for. The rat-a-tat-tat on the rims of his snare and toms brought the room into the palm of Joe Talbot’s hands; here was ‘Colossus’, the growling album (and set) opener, swelling to the point of bursting. The crowd’s anticipation, excitement, and fire bubbles and builds with the 5 on stage; Talbot spitting “I am my father’s son/His shadow weighs a ton” through the gritted teeth he has become synonymous with. “It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s coming!”. Blackout. Then, pure, unadulterated chaos. Crowd and band, in unison, launch at 100mph through stories of Fred Astiare, Jesus Christ (our saviour), Evil Knievel, and Reggie Kray. Blackout. Brilliant.
‘Never Fight a Man with a Perm’ accelerates the crowd into a bouncing frenzy that won’t let up for over an hour, and IDLES are well and truly off. They weave seamlessly between albums, the crowd more than happy to take over from Talbot as he nonchalantly hung the microphone in front of their faces; “MOTHER FUCKER” they scream back. Smiles all round.
I’m genuinely thrilled to live in a world where I can go and see a front-man like him, psychotic eyes, snarling at you, crazed and brilliant. Talbot is a truly unique live talent, who boldly walks the tightrope between madman and matriarch. Fearsome, but caring, such power and passion creates this environment of intense friendship that is now ever-present at IDLES shows. Acceptance of every creed, colour, gender, race, nationality, as evidenced in the wonderful ‘Danny Nedelko’, is paramount to the Idles Community.
This is mind-bogglingly relentless. All 5 of IDLES seem possessed, manic, flying around the stage through Gram Rock (“This is a song about a couple of hedge fund wankers doing cocaine at a funeral”), and then the trio of brutal Brutalism tracks ‘Divide & Conquer’, ‘Heel/Heal’, and one of the highlights of the set, ‘1049 Gotho’. It is a beautiful thing to witness the breadth and depth of Talbot’s lyric writing, across both albums, with instances of inescapable personal loss, toxic masculinity, racism, the division of classes, and more, perhaps best encapsulated than in ‘Samaritans’. “This is why you never see your father cry” yells Talbot; “I kissed a boy and I liked it” reply this deranged crowd. So much shared emotion, of joy and despair, is what makes this truly unique live experience soar higher and further than any other band I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. IDLES are more than just a band, they’re a collective identity.
Talbot then makes a point of thanking everyone present, the crowd, the bar staff, their brilliant team, and above all the security keeping everyone safe. “No, thank YOU” yells someone back. Talbot takes a second, before returning with “We have nothing to be thanked for. We wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for each and every one of you”. But, but, but…IDLES do deserve thanking. Through their hard-work, creativity, brilliant music, their relevance to the world we live in today, and their ability to transform a room of people into a mass of sweat and smiles, they have created something genuinely special. So, yes, thank YOU!
Towards the end of the set, the stage becomes invaded with lucky so-and-so’s, invited up to play along with the band, as Mark Bowen runs around the stage like a lunatic, high on adrenaline. The sheer delight in one woman’s face, as she slams the same chord over and over again on Bowen’s guitar brings everyone in the pit into a conflict between jealously and admiration. “We don’t do fucking encores” bellows Talbot, before launching headlong into set closers Well Done and Rottweiler, and after one final blur it’s all over. Talbot marches off stage, his four madmen gradually letting their instruments ring and feedback into decrescendo. Dev kisses his hands and throws it to the crowd. The lights are back on. Everyone is drained and, simultaneously, on the greatest high anyone can imagine.
This was special. Really fucking special. Best band in the UK? I dare you to find me a better one.