LIVE: IDLES, Lock-In Session at Abbey Road

We locked in to Saturday's instalments of the Bristol band's rough-around-the-edges Abbey Road live sessions.
Posted: 1 September 2020 Words: Meg Berridge Photos: Sergio Maschatzko

Abbey Road, Abbey Road, Abbey Road. Perhaps the most iconic of all British studios. A synonym to The Beatles. The convulsing heart of fantastic music. On Saturday, IDLES rebirthed the Abbey Road legacy with an enthralling assault of noise and testament to modern punk-rock. 

The room was dimly lit, resembling the romantic ambience of a mediterranean bistro. Stationed in a trapezium shape and centric of a red, zany Turkish rug were IDLES. Immediately, they intrinsically burst into imploding mayhem, fierce and brazen. Despite their geometric stature, the Bristolian quintet provided a performance far from square with Joe Talbot’s protruding forehead veins providing an entertaining sideshow to the main event. 

In an undoubtedly rock ‘n’ roll way, gaffa tape had been adorned as an accessory on guitars, Talbot was sporting a hefty moustache and guitarist Mark Bowen was donning what was described as a questionable tan suit. Nonetheless, there they were, ready to be experienced vicariously through the lens of a camera. 

It was a full-throttle affair – if IDLES were a car they’d do zero to sixty in less than a second. IDLES are the sixth gear. They descended into the chasm of chaos with opener ‘Heel/Heal’ — no introductions, no Hellos, no How Are Yous. “Not one for chit chat anymore, am I?” Talbot huffed in an exhausted breath and was answered in a concurring drone, “Nooo!”

Despite his lack of loquacity, Talbot’s showmanship was not stunted. It is a religious practise. He grasped the microphone with one hand and cursed the heavens with the other, aiming his gaze straight down the camera and into your soul. Meanwhile, the rest of the group submissively accepted his omnipotence. 

IDLES paid momentous tribute to their past material. ‘NFAMWAP’, ‘1049 Gotho’ and ‘Television’ being some of the tracks from their first set, knocking each one out with unfaltering zest. Exuding energy from every pore, you could almost see the sweat effervesce from their writhing bodies. Although you were unable to witness the performance first hand, you could feel your bones shaking. And with a conveniently placed satellite camera, you could actually swing off the ceiling — no bouncers to interfere, no bouncers to bring you down. 

Not only was the Abbey Road Lock-In a tribute to their heritage as a band, it was also one of firsts. The show saw the debut of another appetiser from their upcoming album, Ultra Mono. This track was called ‘Kill Them With Kindness’. Within the first thirty seconds, it tumbled. “Kill Them With Kindness, take two” Talbot barked. This initial fumble unlocked the intimate experience of being in a practise session with the working class mavericks. It was a humbling moment —  a reminder of their normalcy, no superficial facade. 

This was even more so evident when two gargantuan lyric sheets were placed atop of the beautiful rug. And we’re talking big. Perhaps to maintain Talbot’s dignity by not wearing his reading glasses but, these were the lyrics to The Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’. The usual buoyancy had cascaded to the floor leaving a dark and hollow shell. It was desolate and desperate, to the point where Talbot had actually surrendered to melody. Although it was not ground breaking or mind blowing, it was human, and certainly far outside of the confines of their comfort zone. Apparently it was an unrepeatable experience, “Fucking fucked it didn’t I… never doing that again,” Joe spits and pointing to the enormous sheets of paper he cried, “Get this fucking shit out of here, reminding me what a terrible singer I am!”

Their first set was one of brotherhood — warm embraces, smiles, singing in unison and awkward dance moves proving the bonds that make them such a strong group. This was most prevalent during their last track of the set, ‘Rottweiler’. A frantic energy exploded. It was as if the whole performance had to physical effect whatsoever — the undying ghouls of punk rock. They all took to gyrating hip movements, embellished with swagger in complete antithesis to the dark thrumming of the track. Midway, Talbot reminded us not to read the tabloid newspapers before placing himself behind the drum kit with John Beavis, forming a quiet appraisal of the two guitarists. Mark Bowen dropped his instrument to take the centre stage, dancing tribally to thundering drums prior to smashing it into giant splinters. 

Talbot collapses on the floor and swiftly their friendship resumes with nondescript and muffled chatting, each of them chugging a plentiful amount of water. Unable to hear a word being spoken for about three minutes, it felt inescapable, a real Lock-In. 

By the beginning of the second set, there was chaos in each of their eyes — even in the eyes of quiet bassist Adam Devonshire. This is where the madness unfurled. After a two hour break, their outfits weren’t the only thing to change. IDLES had become boyish rascals, drunk or not. 

Sloppy might not be the word, but this time round everything was looser and nonchalant. Talbot had taken a tendency to crooning and all members had taken a sudden affinity for busting moves. It was magnetic. 

The set opened with a stripped back, half-time version of massive track ‘Colossus’, revealing boyish and primal behaviour. Talbot beat his chest and stomped his feet like a gorilla asserting dominance, a sort of battle cry. This was no longer Abbey Road Studios, this was the jungle. ‘Mother’ followed with a further babooning from Talbot, who tried engulfing the microphone with his unhinged jaw. 

Three tracks in, IDLES performed ‘Love Song’. Usually gripping and sinister, the antithesis to love, it became a landmark for where everything snapped. Kiernan was falling over himself whilst torturing his guitar into eldritch screams. Possessed by the discordance, the band manifested the sound as it cut out to a rhythmic chant of just drums and bass. Paying homage to the rock ‘n’ roll stars before them, Bowen started slurring and sloshing the words to The Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. ‘Linger’ by The Cranberries also made the cut. 

Meanwhile, Kiernan began to mount a staircase, guitar in hand. Once he was up there you could see the regret glazing his eyes. It was probably the most ungraceful fall ever  — hiring a stunt double might have been a good idea. 

Like the first set, their second also included an incoherent cover. This time the five-piece attempted to cover ‘Reptilia’ by The Strokes. On beginning, Talbot announces that Manhattan group is most likely the reason they are all in a band. But what followed was on the opposite end to mellifluous. It was almost as if they didn’t know the song as it declined into absurdity, like a young group of lads in the genesis of forming a band. It was definitely a spanner in the works. 

From there onwards, the enthusiasm subsided. During ‘Queens’, Bowen built up to smash a second guitar, but bottled it pre-climax, the chat was petering and the silence was deafening.

But the absence of zeal was particularly prominent during the playing of the recently released ‘Model Village’. Frown lines emerged and heads were sunken as they immersed themselves in concentration to give the track a flawless debut. 

On finishing their second set, there was silence. No chat, no Thank Yous, no Goodbyes. But you can’t be mad. Especially after two 45-minute sets. IDLES are the UK’s working class sweethearts. Caveats aside, the IDLES Abbey Road Lock-In was immense. You can certainly catch us in the front row beating our chests to the sounds of Ultra Mono when live gigs safely return. 

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