Well hello there, it’s Laura Stewart here. To say I am buzzing right now is an understatement. I’m quite the fan of the band IDLES. So it was a joy to learn that the band were going to be playing three live sets from the infamous Abbey Road studios in London. IDLES new album Ultra Mono is out on 25th September, and in any typical year the band would be out there playing live gigs galore, but of course, we are living through the apocalyptic year 2020, so much of our entertainment is brought to us online. For a hermit like myself, it’s all worked out rather wonderfully. I get to see my favourite band play where I’d usually never get the chance. Is it the same as a live gig in the flesh? No, it couldn’t possibly be without a crowd, but Joe Talbot and the boys certainly make it as good as it gets.
So, on Saturday 29th August (almost a year since I last saw them play live, really live!), I hopped onto my little bed, poured a glass of sangria (posh!) and laid down to enjoy the greatest boy band from Bristol since, well, IDLES. I wasn’t lying down for long.
Matthew Mansell, another beautiful AFGANG member, details his experience watching Set 3 as I was at work on Sunday (boo). I will still get to watch later though as ticket holders can reaccess the sets from 5pm BST on Monday 31st August. On paper Set 3 should be my favourite of the lot, so I am very excited to see it. Buy tickets to watch it all here from https://livefrom.events/idles/
by Laura Stewart
So here we are: Abbey Road. Can you believe it lads? Starting with “Heel/Heal”, one of the greatest opening tracks of all time. This track opens their debut album Brutalism, and each set begins with the opening track of their next two albums, Joy as an Act of Resistance, and the forthcoming Ultra Mono. I can’t lie, it is weird seeing them play to no crowd, even with their Tiny Desk performance there were people there to cheer them on. Joe is nervous, he tells us he is, and that’s why he’s not too talkative between songs. As they get into it though they loosen up and the cheeky boys we know and love show their faces. It is so hard to perform without an audience to bounce off, but they do it, and they do it well.
“Never Fight a Man With a Perm” is always a crowd-pleaser. But then again, what IDLES track isn’t a crowd-pleaser? Trust me, guys, there was a lot of cheering going on in living rooms and bedrooms across the world. What a humbling and comforting thought that is. Up next is “Stendhal Syndrome” the track that introduced me to IDLES, so it holds a very special place in my heart. Hearing it thanks to the legendary Steve Lamacq on Radio 6 literally changed my life. My sources tell me that this is only the second time they’d played “Stendhal” live since Cardiff in 2018 since the Brutalism Tour. Amazing it was too. Joe stops the song as he feels he mucked up, and you know, I love this about them. I love that it isn’t flawless, there wouldn’t be any point in seeing them if it sounded just like the album. Without crowd noise it is easier to hear mistakes, but hey every single person in the world makes them.
This Abbey Road gig is the first time “Kill Them With Kindness” has been heard by the vast majority of fans as it is an album track from Ultra Mono, so a treat for us indeed. Jamie Cullum features on the album version, so I am intrigued to hear how that will sound as this track is absolutely storming! The band are looking in top shape, all those exercise videos in preparation for “Mr Motivator” clearly did them all a favour during lockdown. Bowen has clothes on! Not just any clothes, a rather fetching brown suit—very dapper indeed. Is the beginning of a new, more serious Bobo? Absolutely not, thank the lord.
Drummer Jon Beavis is an animal. Seeing him close up like this really shows us just how brilliant a percussionist he is. He relentlessly gets through every track, making it look like a walk in the park while simultaneously looking like his arms are going to fly off during “Gram Rock” and “Date Night”. Dare I say it, he is one of the best drummers in the world right now.
Next up is a cover of The Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated”, slowed down to a, ahem, sedated tempo. It’s very, very different to the original, which is about as bubbly a punk track you can get. IDLES’ version is a romantic dirge, and I love it. Their sound is so unique that even covers sound as they created them.
Ending Set 1 were four tracks to blow your head off. “Mr Motivator” was so tight and it gives me a wonderful warm feeling. It’s an odd thing to say maybe as it is the track that most reminds me of the beginning of lockdown. Endless days of sunshine, the world in turmoil but IDLES were always there encouraging us to keep f*cking going, get on our feet and seize the day. Seeing this track live in concert is going to kill me in all the best ways.
From one emotional track, straight into another with “1049 Gotho”. Adored by fans, I included, and I’m not even sure why, but it makes me cry every time. It’s not a sentimental song, but it is a song about depression and as a group of fans who have either been through it, are going through it or are helping their loved ones get through it, it is an anthem for every single one of us.
“Television” and “Rottweiler” finish the set in classic IDLES form, with Bowen smashing his guitar to bits, Joe joining Beavis on drums and the whole thing just kicking off. It’s at this point you think to yourself, how dull would the music scene be right now if IDLES weren’t here? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
It’s time for a break…we have a whole other set to go, go, go!
by Laura Stewart
It’s now 11.45pm BST and the boys are back in town. I was kinda hoping for a full Sgt. Pepper get-up for their return but you know, they aren’t The Beatles. They are better than The Beatles. Yes, I truly believe that shoot me or eat me, I don’t care.
“Colossus” one of my favourite IDLES tracks, and opener of Joy kicks it off. It’s cinematic and foreboding as it builds to that stunning crescendo that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. You can tell the band are more relaxed now, they’ve got the first live show out of the way, slipped into something a little more comfortable and are up for fun. This whole set has a swagger to it. When it all kicks off at the end of “Colussus”, I get chills. Lee, Bowen and Jon all chant “I don’t want to be your man, your man”, while Dev screams his “yeah yeah yeahs” and Joe dances like Fred Astaire. I haven’t been in a pit at a gig for over twenty years, but this track always inspires that ludicrous idea in me.
Recent single release “Grounds” is up next, and it’s great to hear it live. They’ve got the Ultra Mono tracks down to perfection; it seems so easy for them, it is a fluid wall of sound. Bowen has more guitar pedals than should be humanly possible to play with, but he does and they are that unique sound that could only be IDLES. When you know what a track is going to be from less than half a second of sound, that’s amoré. The band have always had a canny way of creating powerful anthems that reflect the feelings of the disenfranchised perfectly at that very moment. “Grounds” was released just as the world was reeling from and reacting to the murder of George Floyd by white police officers in the US. The lyric, “So I raise my pink fist and say black is beautiful” gives you shivers; its a call to alms. Do you hear that thunder? That’s the IDLES army.
From one political anthem to another “Mother” is up next. It never loses the power of its message this song. “Stendhal Syndrome” was the first track I heard, but “Mother” is what made me fall head over heels in love with the band.
Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape
It starts in our books and behind our school gates
Men are scared women will laugh in their face
Whereas women are scared it’s their lives men will take
This is an entirely male band that clearly listened to women. They understand and feel strongly enough about it to write one of the most belting tracks of the 21st Century. That was all I needed to know. Live it is just incredibly powerful, and the band seem to take this one really seriously, and I love that.
“Love Song” is always a treat because you know the band are going to have fun playing around and Bobo is going to jump on the mic for a sing-song and a dance. I wasn’t left disappointed. We got a little bit of “Let It Go” from Frozen, and Leeeeee In the Sky With Diamonds as the man in white climbed up onto a stair bannister to be serenaded by Bobo below. The relationship between the group is one of the most endearing things about them. Joe is one of those frontmen that is just mesmerising to watch. Sometimes he looks alone up there, other times he watches his bandmates with faux disdain but can’t help but crack up at their antics. They are close and have massive respect for one another and its a beautiful thing.
Talking of respect, Joe dedicated “Rachel Khoo” to the AFGANG, the IDLES fan group and it means the world. I have never known a band to be so close to their fans and that’s weird really when you think about it—bands should be like this with their fans. There is zero arrogance from any of the lads; they will always stop and talk and have genuinely made great friendships with some fans. The two things could exist independently, but neither would be the force of nature they are without each other. IDLES and The AFGANG give each other power.
After “White Privilege” comes another cover. I squealed when I heard The Strokes, “Reptilia” riff starting up. Joe tells us The Strokes were the band that brought IDLES together which pleases me greatly as I’m a big fan of the Julian Casablancas and his group, even though they caused my ears to ring for more than a week after a show once. IDLES version of “Reptilia” is again very different from the original. Different but fabulous. It wouldn’t particularly interesting to see them cover a band exactly as they would play it.
There’s a good chance I am going to get slated for what I’m about to say next. The last three tracks of Set 2 are the IDLES equivalent of Blur’s Parklife. Now, please hear me out. Joe and the band know full well that “Danny Nedelko”, “Model Village” and “Well Done” are the songs that get the audience riled up and singing their hearts out in the name of anti-fascism and that is never, ever a bad thing. Yes, they are a bit more shouty and anthemic but bloody hell, these songs are absolutely superb! I cannot wait to experience “Model Village” at a live gig, the venue is going to be bouncing if it sounds even a fraction as good as this.”Model Village” has been my earworm for weeks now and I don’t mind at all.
By the end of this set, I really should be going to sleep. But I can’t! I’m wired, I am excited, I want more! The flames of love for IDLES have been continuously stoked throughout lockdown. The band and their management have treated fans so well with interviews, Balley TV, five new singles plus we have a 2021 tour to look forward to, and all the songs still yet unheard from Ultra Mono. They work so hard and I am oh so grateful. It’s time for a world takeover I think.
by Matthew Mansell
The title card asking me to wait is still on screen when Beavis’s drums come thundering in, introducing Idles’ Sunday afternoon set. According to the setlist, it’s called ‘War’, and that’s what it sounds like.
It’s a set that dances off that Sunday’ meh’ feeling in style: Joe circles the carpet looking for a target to gore, Mark is sashaying down an imaginary catwalk, Adam’s relationship with his guitar and pedals borders on fetish, a beaming Jon pounds the drums like a jackhammer, and Dev quietly dominates proceedings from his corner of the studio with his rumbling bass.
Amid COVID, a lot of the lyrics seem more relevant than ever: “I’m just wondering where the high street’s gone” Joe ponders on “Scum”, while on “Faith in the City” he imagines looking for a reason to exist when “there’s no jobs”. More a band to kick down the fence then sit on it: they dedicate mosh anthem “Divide & Conquer” to key workers and the open-minded, before tearing into the current government. Just as importantly on the same track, Talbot stops circling the middle of the studio and moves to the outer ring, leaving an open space where the mosh pit should be. Not sure if it was a conscious thing or not, but it’s a reminder that as good as watching a set from Abbey Road is, it’s not the same as sweating it out live with them. As Jon’s shirt says: Save our Venues.
Still, if I have to watch gigs from my kitchen table, then I’ll prefer to watch Joe ritual dancing around the floor like a shaman and Mark revving up the guitar to “Mercedes Marxist”, or Lee teasing out the reverb from his pedals on “Hymn”, to any overlong Netflix boxset any day. The latter track, in particular, is a standout: the cracks in the façade of the song’s depressed character beautifully expressed through Joe’s mock-suave vocals and Mark’s hair-tingling guitar.
The clever sequencing of their phlegmy take on Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me”, followed by the nauseous waves of drone on “Slow Savage”—a song about a relationship on the rocks due to drink and drugs—is an emotional one-two knockout. The loud rush of “Benzocaine” that follows is a cathartic release of pent-up anxiety.
The set ends with Joe holding up a sheet of lyrics for “Helter Skelter” to help Mark sing the opening verse in time. One botched start later, what follows is suitably loud, snotty and angry. Joe’s wry interpolation of Placebo’s “Pure Morning” midway through, providing a neat thematic contrast for a lead singer now eight years free of drink and drugs.
And then it’s over. Usually when I watch a live set at midday, it means I’m at a festival and have more acts to see. Now I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, waiting for the next sound of thunder…
Wow, BOB, wow. Set 3 was something else, astonishing, inspiring and imperfectly perfect. Tickets can still be bought to watch the gigs, and you can also get this genius limited edition t-shirt to mark the event.
We hope you enjoyed our IDLES at Abbey Road coverage. With thanks to Prescription PR, Partisan Records, Mother Management and everyone involved who made this very strange Bank Holiday worthwhile and an absolute joy. To Joe Talbot (and his beautiful choice of shirts), Mark Bowen, Adam Devonshire, Leeee Kiernan and Jon Beavis for enthralling us for hours. All is love.