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IDLES live review: noise, energy, and above all: fun

O2 Academy Birmingham, January 22 2022

The blue-toned main room of Birmingham’s O2 Academy is packed to the rafters. It’s the sort of atmosphere that would have been the definition of a safety hazard just under two years ago when the mere breath of a stranger could send anyone into a shivery state of panic. But for now, after multiple postponements caused by our spike-proteined friend, personal space matters less than soaking up the noise coming from the five Bristolian anti-punks on stage. There’s a lot of noise to be made, and a lot of fun to be had, in the ninety minutes or so that they’re here.

This is not a show you’re going to be able to sleep through, that’s for sure, but with a beginning like that, why on earth would you want to?

It begins in an almost sinister fashion: the stage glows traffic-light red, and the opening strums of ‘Colossus’ are played slowly, with a greater menace than the song’s studio recording conveys. The singalong of “I was done in on the weekend/The weekend lasted twenty years,” erupts instantly – though this is not a night for sentiment, IDLES have created a bona fide moment without even trying. They squeeze in another before their first song even ends: the music stops, frontman Joe Talbot commands the crowd to split down the middle – “Are you ready to collide?” he yells – and with a flick of the wrist, carnage ensues. This is not a show you’re going to be able to sleep through, that’s for sure, but with a beginning like that, why on earth would you want to?

There couldn’t be a more perfect choice to maintain the mudstained momentum than ‘Car Crash’, one of the highlights from their recent fourth album Crawler. Its grimy grit feels all the more intense in a live setting, the guitar strings struck with force close to violence, and sounds wonderfully complementary to ‘Colossus’, despite the latter being a whole three years older. There’s a dark depth this song carries that’s brought to the fore throughout the set – Ultra Mono gravelly deep cut ‘Reigns’ bubbles with ferocity, and the rambunctious ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ evokes violent glee. It’s felt most of all though during ‘I’m Scum’, a song which is agile footed on the record but stomps when played live, sounding weightier, filthier, and all the more fitting for the crouch-down-and-jump-up gimmick Joe employs. 

Tonight’s about bare-bones simplicity, making noise and having fun.

Speaking of him, what’s equally striking about tonight’s performance is the almost understated figure Joe cuts on stage. Dressed in a simple dark blue t-shirt, he looks like the everyman you’d see buying milk from the corner shop rather than a quote-unquote rockstar, and he doesn’t act much like one either. Bar the aforementioned moment in ‘Colossus’ he’s not much of a rabble-rouser, and though anyone familiar with him might expect it, there aren’t any grand political speeches. Rather than initiating or commanding mosh pits, he reminds this audience to look after each other. None of this is a complaint – perhaps it’s even refreshing, with the music and his words holding greater importance than the men playing them. It means the flashes of personality on show glow brighter, such as when he begins singing Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’ a cappella midway through the set for no reason at all, before quipping, “We’re the Nickelback of noise rock!”

Joe Talbot is almost as understated as the stage show itself. Though IDLES are big guns now, having sold out four nights at Brixton Academy earlier this week, blinding lights are enough for their set-up even if they could get away with more. The absence of extravaganza isn’t keenly felt, though. Tonight’s about bare-bones simplicity, making noise and having fun – some might call that the essence of punk (if they weren’t aware that such a descriptor might make this band’s frontman a little green in the face). And frankly, they’ve got a right to give themselves a better compliment than “the Nickelback of noise rock”.


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