The crowded, sweaty upstairs at The Bodega crackles with energy as Idles compose themselves for the next song. A tall, bald man near the stage shouts something at the band’s frontman, Joe Talbot, and Joe asks: “Is that a rugby shirt you’ve got on?” The tall, bald man cheers in confirmation – Joe clears his throat and says, “Wrong crowd mate.” The crowd laughs as Joe turns to check drummer, Jon Beavis, is ready to go again. “Ok, this one’s for you,” he nods at the tall, bald man, “It’s called White Privilege…”
Having formed some seven years ago, it is the ferocious energy, this sardonic humour, and a zealous commitment to their music’s integrity that has finally propelled Idles to this coveted position – having a genuine claim to being one of Britain’ most exciting bands.
Their debut LP, Brutalism, was released at the beginning of March, and was soon anointed one of the best albums so far this year; so timely, so perceptive, and so brutal. Undoubtedly, this kind of coverage is part of the reason that The Bodega is packed tonight with people so agitated to see for themselves what the fuss is about.
“The visceral energy of their raw, punchy punk translates into something even larger, even more captivating on the stage…”
Even as Idles were setting up, you could sense this was going to be a different kind of gig. As the heavily bearded bassist, Adam Devonshire, adjusted his mic, and Lee Kieran tuned his guitar, and a stand-in lead guitarist geared up to fill the shoes of the absent Mark Bowen, Joe stalked around the stage, eyeing up the gathering crowd, and, anticipating the physicality of the task ahead. He limbers up, shakes his stocky frame around, and stretches his arms high above his head.
Having made their introductions, the pounding drums that open ‘Heel’ rattle around the room, before buzzsaw guitars cut the air, and Joe’s droning vocals grow progressively into a vicious, animal roar.
The visceral energy of their raw, punchy punk translates into something even larger, even more captivating on the stage. Beavis’ drumming delivers a persistent, upward momentum that rarely subsides, as the guitars swirl into a deafening cacophony, anchored only by the resolute, baritone bass parts provided by Devonshire.
By the end of the first track, Talbot is shaking, snarling, red in the face and sweating – only ten minutes later, most of the heaving, shoving bodies near the front look the same.
“Why don’t you get a job?” sneers Talbot at the outset of ‘Well Done’, “Even Tarquin has a job / Mary Berry’s got a job / So why don’t you get a job?” “Well Done!” shouts the room in response. Bleeding into every track on the night is a pent-up, frustrated angst that demands attention in its urgency.
With a grit and perception that goes way beyond the output of today’s touchstone punk-rock NME-darlings, Idles marry gallows humour with bleak realities, and breathe a new, creative life into a sound and attitude that has been pastiched beyond recognition, used to pedal meaningless platitudes to the tune of worn-out re-hashes of commercial-friendly, butter-flogging, Brit-punk memorabilia.
“These guys have their fingers firmly on the pulse”
Case in point is the track ‘Mother’, in which Talbot tremors with rage and erupts into searing chorus-lines, whilst covering a myriad of personal and public themes from the life and recent death of his own mother, to Tory politics, to institutionalised sexual violence and back again.
You can sense a bitter catharsis, in the music and on the night, but there is an optimism too; a shared sense of understanding that Idles are articulating an angry, meaningful opposition to a status-quo reality that is increasingly difficult to bear. The ominous death-knell marching pace on ‘Divide & Conquer’ says it all.
The band mill about after the gig, and Joe poses for photos with a queue of eager, sweaty punters. He’d made it clear on stage that this was their absolute favourite thing to do, and that they were grateful that so many people had turned out to watch. Truthfully, we should be the grateful party, that these guys have their fingers firmly on the pulse, and put on such a clattering live show to boot.