IDLES proving that they deserve their idolatry and demonstrating the difference between opportunism and passion

Not many bands would have had as good an eighteen months as IDLES. Heralded as one of the artists of 2018 by the likes of KEXP and 6 Music, the success of second album Joy as an Act of Resistance has carried on into 2019, with a tour stop in Manchester’s Albert Hall tonight.

They’re the punk band that can boast having some of Britain’s best choruses and most raucous performances, as well as the best album opener from last year. ‘Colossus’ rightly kicks things off; with its rim shots and bass shudders, the warning signs are there that things will get rowdy. When the clenching build-up finally falls into the frantic breakdown of “ah-ah-ah”-s and “yeah-yeah-yeah”-s, it releases an energy that lasts the rest of the night.

They follow straight up with ‘Mother’, which has the crowd in instant tatters as they shove and shout one of the hooks that have made Joe Talbot such a distinct lyricist: “The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich.” Behind them in giant white block caps is their band name, blaring out from a fuchsia back drop. Like IDLES, it’s simple and brash; the band stamp and thrash in front, playing harder and faster verse to verse and song to song.

Joe Talbot orchestrates events, jogging on the spot and pacing in the instrumentals, waiting for his part like a boxer awaiting a bell ring. There’s a violent flamboyance to him reminiscent of Tom Hardy’s Bronson. He seems to be terrifyingly hard but having fun at the same time.

The whole band has fantastic social skills, interacting wherever possible. Whilst Talbot stands poised over the mob as instigator, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan seem desperate to leave the stage and exit out the back of the room, if not for the tether of their guitar leads. They have enough energy to front a band each, climbing up the rafters and into the crowd like small kids, handing their instruments over to near-fainting fans to play for entire songs. And after the set, red-bearded bassist Adam Devonshire is spotted dishing out merch.

Alongside the band’s hectic behaviour, it’s the sardonic singalongs that elevate this gig. An iconic moment comes when the room is filled with a recital of Talbot’s pre-chorus, “forgive me father I have sinned / I’ve drained my body full of pins”, the congregation all too fitting for the old chapel walls of the Albert Hall.

The politics that underpins the band’s album becomes front and centre in the live show. Talbot prefaces ‘Great’ with “Long live the European Union”, explaining that “this song’s about out little island and its archaic ideologies”. The audience of (mostly) millennials are in accordance, cheering every liberally charged statement. There’s a sense the band have come along at the perfect time, feeding off the frustration of the electorate and building it back up in their audience for maximum effect. People are pissed off and so are IDLES. In a rather sick sense, they’ve probably come to benefit from Brexit a lot more than most.At one point, Talbot addresses the stick the band has been getting from Sleaford Mods, their older contemporaries who accuse them of inventing their working-class character to come across more genuine. In keeping with the rest of the show, Talbot’s response is appropriately strong and frank, baring the bluntness of a middle finger in partnership with the phrase: “F*** off, you miserable c****”
 There are some searing enactments of older songs like ‘Well Done’ and ‘Exeter’. But it’s the newer songs that stand apart for their sarc-ier choruses and tempo changes. ‘I’m Scum’ is a highlight, with lines like “I don’t care about the next James Bond ... we don’t need another murderous toff”, the room proudly partaking in the hook of “Dirty, rotten, filthy scum!”

‘Samaritans’ is the stand out however. It embodies the brilliantness of their sound: a jostling drum pattern pitted against some thrashed out chord progressions; Talbot at his most shouty yet sensitive, with one of the lyrics of 2018, “the mask of masculinity, it’s a mask, a mask that’s wearing me”; and a brutal breakdown to guarantee the comfort of a mosh-pit.

It’s part of a fierce evening that shows how far this band has come in a short time. There’s nothing fake about this performance. They might play the angry resistance card, but there’s a big difference between opportunism and passion. On the strength of this gig, it is clear IDLES deserve their idolatry.

Photo credit: courtesy of venue. For more live reviews see here.