IDLES at Village Underground
There are moments in music, sometimes. There are moments.
Moments like these:
When The Velvets exasperated their sound-guys by driving all of their equipment into the red. When Ian Curtis’ spasmodic dancing hypnotised his audience whilst his band’s ethereal noise filled the Factory. When Mark E. Smith (requiescat in pace) snarled his heart-breaking rendition of Garden live at the Hacienda with two drummers. When Slint finished up an ill-attended show with that cover of Young’s Cortez the Killer in Chicago in ‘89.
Moments. Perhaps you’ve experienced one yourself:
Bands with the frenetic energy of rising success driving their playing, their love of the crowd, before cynicism and weariness turns them into a well-oiled machine. An intimacy that comes when you’re close to something that is happening.
IDLES played at the Village Underground in Shoreditch a little while ago. I was there. It was brutal.
“It’s not the band who’ve grown bigger, it’s you lot.”
This has been quite the year for the band. Twelve months ago they were playing in dive bars to a crowd of ten devotees. Now they’re riding high off the back of their critically-acclaimed debut, Brutalism, an album which snarls with the type of rage that only eight years of Tory rule can gift to art. Joe Talbot’s vocals hearken back to late-70s punk, but put themselves apart with the tightness of their delivery. The record itself is a kind of long-form growl, driven by hypnotic basslines and howling guitars delivered at blistering pace. Its lyrics speak to millennial dissatisfaction and parodies the values of polite society, that kind of raw intellectualism delivered by Crass back when prole art was still a threat.
“Jah bless the NHS, yes?”
The band are luminous on stage. Clad all in white, they work together with a clear joy at their star, rising collectively. Talbot, front-centre, is a gifted showman who stands as a focus for the sardonic anger which the band’s music seems to be giving a voice to. Prurient rage, delivered as harsh ironic barbs. A bottle of bucky clutched in his hands, the man’s intensity is complimented by the other lads who are, simply put, having it utterly large.
“We’re all gay in here, yeah? Good. Glad we got that out there."
They prance hypnotically to the rhythm, as-if eternally in the moment. The guitarist with the ‘tache (sorry mate. I’m too ineffectual to verify what your name is, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the photo I got of you is fantastic) seems to particularly relish his moment, yanking his mic out of its stand and thrusting it into the hands of the rapidly expanding cult of followers who bark Talbot’s lyrics with the devotion of a fanbase that has found itself. He throws himself into the crowd with abandon, his face contorting into features varyingly ecstatic and wryly amused.
Barely two minutes into the set the crowd was already beginning to heave. By the time ‘Mother’ is dropped the pit is in full effect, bodies passing over my head and falling under my feet. From where I am it’s impossible to avoid, and it’s glorious. No one is being a dick, thank Christ. I feel like I’m surrounded by old friends. Strangers embrace and pogo like nutters. In the corner, an old crusty (as a friend put it: ‘sitting dormant in an armchair for twenty years, awaiting the return of punk’) is helping some fella find a lost wallet.
“This is a song about depression. Sharing is caring, talk to someone: it might save your life.”
Talbot departs the stage at the last number, leaving the band to build the crowd up into a frenzy. White noise fills the hall as the remaining members of the band throw themselves into the crowd, who receive them on their shoulders. As the lights come up, they fraternize with the fans, the drummer heroically manning the merch stand, still conducting himself like a small-time musician in the back of some dingy Bristolian music pub. It was lovely.
That was a moment, alright. Between fame and obscurity. Before the frenzy of the road wears you down, or the critical mass of success makes such intimacy an old memory.
IDLES were sublime, if you hadn’t figured. I’d tell you to go see them, but they’ve probably already sold out.