Village Underground, London
October 17, 2023
Given the number of IDLES t-shirts on display inside East London’s Village Underground, the band’s surprise ‘secret’ show - billed under the name TANGK - might not be quite as secret as intended. It didn’t help that their own website was selling TANGK baseball caps and a handful of online stockists were already listing TANGK, the Bristol punks’ forthcoming new album, for pre-sale ahead of tonight’s reveal, but no matter: IDLES are a band who thrive off a sense of community and common purpose and tonight is very much a performance intended for the faithful.
The last time the band played here was in support of their 2017 debut Brutalism and given their previous headline London shows were four back-to-back concerts at Brixton Academy, frontman Joe Talbot jokes that the venue has stayed the same size, it’s just his ego that has grown. That’s not all that has grown since 2017, and funnelling IDLES’ colossal, muscular assault into a narrow brick warehouse a fraction of the size of the venues they normally play, they sound tremendous.
Though they open with new track Gratitude, a churning maelstrom of distemper with guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan hurling flailing, sludgecore riffs from the stage, Talbot quickly announces they are here to play old songs. It might be easy to reduce IDLES as echo-chamber punk rockers, preaching to the converted in bold print slogans (Fat White Family frontman Lias Saoudi once sniffily dismissed them to this writer as “The Guardian’s 'comment is free' section set to music”), but even in the space of a few years, the ground underneath these songs has slid further and further to the right, invigorating them with fresh rage and fury.
Early class war mission statements Mother and Divide & Conquer are delivered here with the roaring intensity of tank divisions, while the knowing leftie flag-waving of I’m Scum sounds more kamikaze than tongue-in-cheek. Even a joyous Danny Nedelko, IDLES’ anthemic celebration of multiculturalism and immigration, feels desperately urgent under the shadow of devastating sectarian violence and deportations to Rwanda.
2020’s Ultra Mono saw IDLES deliberately push that characterisation to its extreme conclusion, and the follow-up CRAWLER found them retreating from the frontline in favour of some brutal self-examination. Though they might not inspire as many singalongs or much crowd surfing, the more personal songs this evening deliver something that is in their own way more powerful.
The clanging, Zombie girl group horror show of The Beachland Ballroom presents a howling act of catharsis from the singer as he details his past rock bottoms with a harrowing bleakness. While on the lonely A Hymn, he cuts a despondent, almost quiet figure on the stage, revealing more about the person behind the politicking than any of his between-song monologues.
For all the focus on Talbot, looking today like Luke Wilson’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums had he spent twenty years in Sing Sing, it’s the thunderous noise produced by the rest of the band - and in particular ferociously on-form drummer Jon Beavis - which delivers a pummelling, visceral thrill. In close quarters, you really notice how IDLES songs rarely follow any conventional structure, lurching and sharp-turning instead from to brutalist grinds to massive choruses and thunderous breakdowns without ever glancing in the rear-view to check on the section they’ve just visited.
It's perhaps with this in mind that Talbot retreats behind the drumkit towards the end of closer Rottweiler, letting his bandmates take the spotlight as they work up an astonishing, almost Can-like frenzy. “Keep going, keep fucking going, fuck them!” shouts out Talbot as the song crashes to an end. As motivational messages go it’s a simple one, but one that increasingly sounds more important.
Divide And Conquer
The Beachland Ballroom
Never Fight A Man With A Perm
Picture: Nicole Osrin