With their third album ‘Ultra Mono’ mere weeks away, the excitement that develops within the online IDLES fan community ahead of their three-part stream weekend is as close to ‘event TV’ as anybody could hope to achieve in 2020’s attention economy. It’s broadcast live from Abbey Road, a tenner granting you access to a 40-minute set of your choosing – or you can go the whole hog for £20 and enjoy the near entirety of their catalogue.
Certainly, the first set shows signs of being an expensive production. A lingering shot from above is vertigo-inducing but somehow thrilling in its slightly sickening feeling, like being suspended on a rollercoaster right before it takes flight. Frontman Joe Talbot adopts his now customary stance, hunched over like a cantankerous groundskeeper debating whether or not to throw the school kids back their ball.
Here, in one of Abbey Road’s smaller studios, IDLES play in a horseshoe, using the intensity of isolation to make the space feel even smaller. He gives his bandmates the look, and they launch into an immaculate rendition of the pummelling ‘Heel/Heal’, whittled down to perfection through years of live execution. After weeks of dodgily-shot Instagram lives and buffering bandwidths, it’s a real luxury to witness something so beautifully framed.
Whether it’s the pressure of a paying audience or the cobweb-dusting nature of their first live show in months, the anxious tension in the room is palpable. Guitarist Lee Keirnan stamps the floor like he’s trying to set a personal best on the elliptical stepper, bassist Adam Devonshire is stoic and dependable, while drummer Jon Beavis appears to have levelled up in lockdown, eyes down and arms flailing with no visible signs of fatigue.
To the dismay of some in the accompanying live chat, eccentric guitarist Mark Bowen has decided that Abbey Road deserves better than his normal stage attire of Y-fronts, opting instead for a tasteful orange linen suit that only emphasises his theatrical capers.
At the centre of it all, Talbot wears his nervousness most plainly, nursing a leg injury and clearly in his head about the strangeness of the situation. A fumble on early track ’Stendahl Syndrome’ sets him up for another on ‘Kill ‘Em With Kindness’, the first live outing of the ‘Ultra Mono’ cut. Although it sounds much more vibrant live than it does on record, his head remains low and doesn’t rise until ‘Mr Motivator’, its lyrical ridiculousness seeming remind him that this was meant to be fun. It’s a shame there isn’t a screen right there in the room – if he could see the messages flooding in from fans willing him along from their sofas, he’d likely remember that in IDLES world, mistakes are not only permissible, but embraced.
By ‘1049 Gotho’, Talbot is looking even lower on steam. “I am inconsolably nervous,” he finally admits before the closer of ‘Rottweiler’, and the admission sets him free, clambering over to the drums with a second set of sticks to pound out some frustration. To his left, Bowen is smashing seven shades of shite out of his guitar, seemingly forgetting the two more livestreams he’s got to play in the next 24 hours.
There’s no knowing how much repairs to that gorgeous parquet floor might cost them, but it’s a moment of refresh, and you can almost see Talbot’s shoulders lift as he remembers that he has two more chances to make it right. In the sidebar, the chat erupts – this is the messy showmanship they all love.
In a weekend where they should have been sub-headlining the second biggest stage at Reading & Leeds, it’s a set that doesn’t so much as fill the gap as expose the vulnerabilities that develop when a pandemic hinders a band’s ability to rehearse. Nonetheless, the fallible element is what makes IDLES who they are, wheels always close to coming off.
In a time where they could have easily opted for a manicured video edit, there is something to be admired in the humanity of their ramshackle deliverance.
‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’
‘Kill Them With Kindness’
‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ (Ramones Cover)