Going to Bath on a Sunday night isn’t something you would expect to be excited about, but when the reason for doing so is to see IDLES, I may as well have been on a bus to the airport rather than on the 39 from Bristol city centre.
Having made waves with their debut album ‘Brutalism’ last year, and with a second album already finished (and sounding fantastic from the songs they played live), the IDLES gang are most definitely one of the most exciting bands to have come out of Bristol in the last few years. Their support for the night, Lice, are equally exciting, and as their kaleidoscopic cowboy punk filled the high ceilings of the Komedia I watched on from the balcony with a mix of awe and frustration that I couldn’t be down in the crowd. Although it took the audience a few songs to get dancing, I was hooked from the moment they launched into tumbling, rolling flow of ‘Stammering Bill’. With thunderous, driving drums, huge, reverb-soaked guitar riffs, and arrogant, sinister bass grooves all brought together by frontman Alistair Shuttleworth’s uniquely breathless, 100 word a minute vocal delivery, Lice’s sound is hypnotic and enthralling. This sound is matched by their excellent stage presence, with cowboy-hat-clad bassist Gareth prowling the stage and Alastair getting into the crowd to hand form mosh pits on multiple occasions, it’s easy to see why they were the perfect openers to get people in the mood for the main event of the night.
By the time IDLES were due to start, and after successfully sneaking into the main arena (along with plenty of others with ‘balcony’ stamps deliberately rubbed into an unreadable smudge), the excitement in the air was palpable, and glistening in the sweat on the faces of the crowd. As the band emerged onstage the room filled with all the latent energy of a dam about to burst, and as soon as the opening drumbeat of ‘Heel / Heal’ kicked in, burst it did, as the entire room exploded into a roaring mass flailing limbs and screaming voices. I’m uncertain whether it’s due to the devotion of the fans, Joe Talbot’s undeniable catchy lyrics, or a combination of the two, but it’s rare to see someone who isn’t yelling along to every song at an IDLES gig. The energy is undeniably positive and communal, something the band both make sure of and epitomise by their interactions with the crowd and each other, dancing around the stage, dancing all throughout the crowd, asking multiple times if everyone felt safe and happy, and generally being a lovely bunch of blokes. This attitude is one that is almost definitely necessary given the ferocity of the music and the intensity of the dancing – you almost always leave an IDLES show drenched in sweat, out of breath and with a few cut and bruises, and it’s lovely to be in a crowd where no-one abuses this energy to be, well, violent dickheads.
The setlist comprised of an amalgamation of highlights from ‘Brutalism’, some old favourites, and a selection of tracks from the new album – all of which were excellent, and in true IDLES fashion covered such topics as Brexit and pressures of toxic masculinity. These new tracks, while overall having a slightly darker tone than some of the cuts off brutalism, also contained moments of hope as they searched for a possibility for a way out of the dark political climate of the past few years. The political side of the band was especially present throughout the gig, as Talbot made several stops between songs to address issues such as the NHS (for which guitar player Mark Bowen works), as well as the perhaps unavoidable subject of Brexit, asking the audience to all engage in a dialogue about where all the hatred around these issues was stemming from, rather than to simply add to the fighting between the different sides of the political spectrum. No matter what your own personal views on politics, I think it would be hard to fault the mature and up-front way in which the band addresses such topics, and it was a pleasant addition to the music to see the band using their platform in such a positive way.