This being one of the most highly-anticipated gigs of the year, from one of the most important bands of recent times, expectations were understandably elevated tonight, for what had been an immediate sell out when tickets went on sale a few months ago. Idles duly delivered, in what was a riotous celebration of music and communion, led by the exuberant singer/lyricist Joe Talbot.
Taking their cue from the golden era of punk, and post punk, and inhabiting a space once occupied by the likes of The Birthday Party, The Fall, and even the Sex Pistols and the brutal avant-noise of Swans, Bristol’s Idles are anything but copycats or retro-activists. Instead they have carved out an energising and fresh sound that speaks of the here and now, and via the lyrics of Talbot, it’s a lot more personal and upfront than almost anyone else you care to mention. Talbot’s commitment is to speaking of his own vulnerabilities, and compassionate character, whilst casting a savagely sarcastic and vitriolic eye over issues such a racism, the popular press, and homophobia.
Talbot has said, “I think of my art as a way of being vulnerable, an exercise in catharsis, and a reflection of my ugliness that can exalt shame. Here (on their two albums to date, Brutalism and Joy As An Act of Resistance) it manifested into something beautiful, as all catharsis should be.” Music’s patently his calling, and his outlet, and with Idles it has perfectly meshed with the other four members who provide the noisy, nay brutal, yet super-tight, groove-based sonic palette that lays the foundations for Talbot to do his thing. For the most part, Idles’ music is built around rumbling basslines, and simple yet searing riffs, Talbot battling both with and against the musical onslaught that rarely lets up.
During the course of the show he shouts “I am a feminist”, talks about safe gigs for women (and less aggro at the front, if you don’t mind), how much he gets on with immigrants, his appreciation of the NHS, some big praise for Brighton band Ditz, and plenty of love for the audience who “give me energy”. At one point shirtless, guitarist Mark Bowen provides another focal point as he crowd surfs whilst still playing. The energy, and celebratory atmosphere of the audience, cannot be denied tonight, and at the end of ‘Danny Nedelko’ they erupt into a spontaneous chant of the song’s punkishly delivered refrain.
The encore sees a rather incongruous a cappella version of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ (steady on chaps: I have a November 5 rule, never talk about Xmas until the fireworks have subsided), before delivering Joy’s most unexpected cut, the cover of soul legend Solomon Burke’s ‘Cry To Me’ (Talbot is a big fan of 60s-era soul). Talbot finishes the increasingly sweaty night by advising us that reading the The Sun and Daily Mail will give us cancer, before the band launch into the hard, punk-tempoed, and noise-filled finale that is ‘Rottweiler’.
In the wrong hands, anger and sarcasm can be an embarrassing assemblage of mis-firing diatribes. However, Talbot’s controlled vocal delivery, his honesty and compassion – the culmination of the self-realisation process that has gone into his brief musical career so far – and the sheer tightness and energy of a band that refuses to over-egg the visceral pudding, make Idles the best punk band out there, and quite possibly the best new band, full stop.