I have always thought punk to be rather like poetry (or pizza). Relatively easy to make to some degree of competence, but particularly hard to stand out from the crowd. Yet on the rare occasion that punk/poetry/pizza does reach those height, the results can be magical. With only two LPs under their belt, yet playing to a Riverside not only packed to the brim, but sold out months in advance, it would appear IDLES have achieved just that. The Bristol-based band’s cathartic, heavily politicised music – for an era in desperate need of such – attracted a diverse crowd of younger and older fans alike, eager to experience one of IDLES much raved about live performances.
Drummer Jon Beavi and bassist Adam Devonshire were the first on stage, laying down the groove of opener ‘Colossus’, taken from the exceptionally well named 2018 album Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Momentous roars from the crowd accompanied shirtless frontman Joe Talbot’s entrance, as he saw off his drink and begun the eerie opening vocals with his signature gruff, semi-tuneless delivery. Overpriced beers went flying as the momentous tension of the track was finally released, and a sizeable portion of the crowd (unsurprisingly) erupted into a mosh pit.
This did not go unappreciated by the band, with Talbot thanking the audience “for being so rambunctious”, and easily matching the energy of the crowd several times over. ‘Mother’ from 2017’s Brutalism followed; intense yet cohesive riffs from the rest of the band accompanied Talbot, snarling the refrain of “the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich” with an immense sense of urgency.
For all their ferocity and out-and-out heaviness, IDLES are still a band with many a message, albeit framed with something of an absurdist sense of humour. Be it celebrating the role of immigrants within British society with ‘Danny Nedelko’ (named after the band’s immigrant mate) – joining the entire room in singing “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah; Hey, ey, ey, ey; DANNY NEDELKO!” was a particular highlight of the night. Or in tackling more sensitive subjects, such as depression with ‘1049 Gotho’, likening the experience of the mental illness to an isolated asteroid on the edge of the asteroid belt; most bands would utilise a sombre, reflective performance for such a topic. But not IDLES.
And of course, the turbulence of contemporary British politics was not off the menu; ‘Great’, a song about “the worst decision this country has ever made” felt particularly cathartic, played with a mock-jingoistic energy spurred by March 29th looming ever-closer.
Already having shown himself prone to such antics as crowd surfing and balancing his guitar on his head, guitarist Mark Bowen took things a step further by helping a seemingly-endless stream of fans over the barrier and onto the stage. This band-sanctioned stage invasion lasted the span of an extended jam (though, being rather drunk by this point in the set, I am struggling to recall on what song), before being understandably yet somewhat unceremoniously kicked off so the set could continue.
‘Rottweiler’ closed the set, its extended instrumental outro becoming more and more manic as Talbot left, to let the rest of the band take centre stage as the song climaxed into a mess of feedback and distortion. A spectacular end to a spectacular performance, leaving no mystery as to why IDLES are being heralded as one of the most exciting British bands out there.