It says something about how ugly Britain is right now that a band making music as misshapen as IDLES can sell out four nights at Brixton’s most iconic venue.
Tonight, over 90 minutes, the Bristol group make no concessions to subtlety, charm or finesse. There’s little in the way of pretty lights to look at, the band more often than not cloaked in either unsettling red glow or eye-frazzling strobe. It’s a no fuss stage-set up, too, though the five-piece perform their songs with the grace of a swan turned upside down. Essentially, tonight’s show is an hour-and-a-half of frontman Joe Talbot and co. forcing the 5,000 or so present to gaze into the broken mirror that is modern Britain. It’s brilliant.
You can’t call him a singer, really, a statement backed up by a bizarre a cappella rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ towards the end of the set. And yet as Talbot barks and grunts and thrusts and snarls, it’s unquestionable that he’s the difference between IDLES being a good band and one approaching greatness. It’s not that he radiates stardom, nor that his talent is clear to see; more that on nights like tonight, Joe Talbot is indistinguishable from the vast majority of people in the crowd. Not a singer but a steward; a conduit for communal emotion.
Maybe it’s the fervour of an audience starved of live music during these two dank years. Perhaps it’s a night off from the churn of the news cycle (though sizeable portions of the crowd chant “fuck the Tories” between songs, all night long). But while IDLES songs are very angry, what they elicit tonight is joy. Opener ‘Colossus’ sees the crowd convulsing from front to back. ‘Crawl!’, one of a clutch of new songs lifted from 2021’s ‘Crawler’, inspires actual dancing! And by the time ‘The Wheel’ comes around – one of multiple appearances from guest saxophonist Colin Webster – there’s a rewilding of a sight many might have thought was extinct at the dawn of 2022: mile-wide smiles.
If there’s a criticism of IDLES tonight, it’s that their performance finds them so fond of the same abrasive note that its impact is reduced when sequenced to an hour-and-a-half. Similarly, the gulf in quality between Talbot’s exploration of the personal (‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’) and the political (‘Reigns’) is far and wide; his understanding of the self exceeds his slogans and Sharpie-on-cardboard polemic. And yet, honestly, on nights as fun as tonight, who gives a fuck?
‘Divide and Conquer’
‘The Beachland Ballroom’
‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’
‘MTT 420 RR’