I’ve been enraptured by Idles since our very own Sheggs reviewed Brutalism back in March last year; an absolute belter of an album, it had me hooked instantly. A profound debut followed up by this year’s Joy As An Act of Resistance has quite rightly earned this band titles such as “Britain’s most necessary band” (The Guardian) and “The most important band we have right now” (DIY). It came as no surprise that this UK leg of the tour sold out rapidly.
So to Digbeth, Birmingham and the great Institute, arriving after doors opened, we are surprised to be met by no queue, a welcome sight on this bitterly cold night. Heading in, we immediately spot Jon Beavis (drums) and ‘Dev’ Adam Devonshire (bass) greeting fans like family behind the merch stall. There’s an electrifying buzz in the air, this band have pulled in a huge welcoming fan community, their ‘All is Love AF Gang‘ badges can be seen everywhere and I’ve got to say it’s one of the friendliest, most supportive fan groups I’ve ever joined.
I’m eager to get inside and catch the only support act tonight, Heavy Lungs. These guys were outstanding when I caught them last year supporting the mighty Metz in Bristol; their home town. With tonnes of distortion, attitude and a post-punk flare, Heavy Lungs are every bit as good as I remember them, if not better. The guitars are harsher than ever, backing angsty Danny as he hollers down the mic and punches the air towards the ground fervently. George on drums, stripped to the waist is pounding away rabidly, screaming backing vocals and battering his kit into submission; it’s hard to take your eyes off him. We’re treated to several tracks from their debut EP Abstract Thoughts, intense and brutal riffs ricochet around the venue and Danny is just captivating to watch, dancing and stomping around, he covers the whole stage. Disquiet moments see him create almost a noose from the mic wire, his distemper evident.
Newly released single “Blood Brother” is met by whoops and cheers from the crowd, an ode to Idles’ frontman Joe Talbot, this number has the now almost full venue nodding along. “Stutter” gives the band a breather with its slower pace building into a crazed crescendo that sees Danny hand over the mic to George and he heads front of stage, laughing maniacally. Doing press ups on the bass drum, Danny limbers up as their final ferocious track kicks in. The band batter the living daylights out of their instruments, huge layers of distortion and the final slaughter of drums with Danny standing front of stage, silent, a fixed stare as the chaos surrounds him a compelling performance Heavy Lungs, I loved every second.
The venue is completely rammed now, the floor as far back as I can see and not an empty seat up on the balconies in this 2,000 cap venue. There’s already a few crowd surges as people jostle to get closer to the front I’m second row back at the barrier, I dig in my Doc Martens and brace myself as the lights dim and Dev walks on in his pink boxer shorts as the ominous bass tones of “Colossus” thunder out. The roar is deafening and escalates as frontman Joe Talbot takes to the stage in his CATS t-shirt. “I was done in on the weekend,” he drawls, the crowd drown him out completely and angsty guitars build as Joe’s vocals get harsher and the crowd try and outdo him, “It’s coming…” is hollered out repeatedly with the band building into a chaotic crescendo and then the deadly silence around 4 minutes in. You can hear a pin drop, we all know what’s coming! The track goes from 0 to 100 the crowd goes insane and I get my first dousing of beer, mosh or leave, there is no pit; the floor is alive, the sound deafening and the atmosphere second to none, ladies and gents, Idles have entered the building.
Another track from JAAAoR and there’s no room for air as “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” belts out, the crowd are bouncing along, it’s like lyric tennis; Joe and the crowd battering words at one another trying to outdo each other volumetrically. Powerful, unrestrained “Mother” is spat out in disdain: “The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich”, written in the wake of Joe’s mother’s death, it’s a vulnerable and angry track, the crowd dutifully screaming “Mother Fucker” to Joe’s obvious joy. Quickly followed by “Faith in The City” also from debut album Brutalism. The band are electrifying on stage, their energy boundless, the crowd ready for a breather. No chance! Joe thanks Birmingham for welcoming the band to their city and encourages us to listen to more Table Scraps (I couldn’t agree more!). Then asks if there’s any scum in tonight and dedicates next song to them whilst jogging on the spot in time.
The crowd go mental as intro to “Danny Nedelko” plays out, guitarist Mark Bowen takes a shirtless crowd surf and is soon swallowed up and enveloped in sweaty love brawl. The main man then walks out to join the furore (if you didn’t know already the song is dedicated to the front man from Heavy Lungs) as Joe screams out his love for immigrants and how important they are to our society: “My best friend is a citizen, he’s strong, he’s earnest, he’s innocent”, there’s so much love in the room right now. Despite my best attempts, I’m slowly getting pushed back and complete strangers are pulling me back to my starting position, people are being dragged up off the floor (such as my other half, complete with being winded and another falling on his head) and helped to find lost phones, wallets and god knows what else in the pit, there’s huge camaraderie.
“The country’s run by psychopaths!” screams Joe, shaking sweat from his head and bouncing around, a riot ensues in the pit as “Gram Rock” is pelted at us full force. Love and thankfulness then for the NHS; an ode to its disembowelment, “Divide & Conquer”, is met with huge cheers.
There’s no let up in tonight’s assault, “Television” sees a feral pit of middle fingers in unison as Joe dedicates this song to his daughter, “Love yourself” repeatedly screamed, again drowned out by the crowd. Thankfully water is being passed back, always great care at this venue, most of it thrown into the air, it’s a much needed relief. It’s hotter than hell and I’m being repeatedly whipped by the guy in front who thought it was a good idea to persistently windmill a scarf round.
Every single track was a highlight, not a word missed by the crowd, but anti-Brexit number “Great” had a particular resonance as “G.R.E.A.T” was chanted and sung by the crowd with the most passion of the night it felt to me, I looked up at the balconies and all the faces seemed to be pining to be in our spot. Before “Love Song”, Joe has everyone hug someone in the crowd, no encouragement needed such is the atmosphere in here tonight. “Exeter” has an encouraged stage invasion, crowd members being given the band’s instruments and doing a stellar job I might add, Joe himself inviting one guy to stay on guitar: “You do a better job,” he laughs.
Cover “Cry to Me” is not Joe’s first nod to his love of the film Dirty Dancing, it’s a vulnerable, heartfelt performance, the pain written all over his face, punching himself repeatedly in the chest. I had a huge lump in my throat, I’m not gonna lie. “We don’t do encores, they’re weird.” The crowd laugh and then groan as we know the night is coming to an end. Frantic and funny “Well Done” has even the balconies singing along, the crowd are not letting up and I’m struggling for air and my voice has completely gone now.
“Don’t read the Sun, it’ll give you cancer,” screams Joe through gritted teeth about show closer “Rottweiler”, guttural and full of venom for the tabloid press, it packs a huge punch and the sound is insane, punky and jagged guitars explode from the stage, more beer (I hope) showers down and the wildest pit of the night ensues. “Rottweiler!” we shout repeatedly, fists punching in the air, egging the band on, faster and faster with no let up from Joe and the rest of the band. Hammering their tools of the trade, utter distortion and noise plays out for at least 5 minutes at the end of the song, Joe silent and the band playing with every ounce of strength they have left. Joe and the crowd are completely spent, shoulders heaving, panting for breath as they stand in awe, it’s purgative. What an incredible performance.
If you’ve not been lucky enough to catch them this time round, I strongly recommend you chase them around Europe as they take their JAAAOR tour across the channel. Word has it that their New Zealand/Australia dates next year are selling out fast too. Look out, world.