Selling out in a single minute upon going on sale in November, April’s Fools Day this year brings a band to Belfast’s Empire with more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Perhaps one of the most anticipated shows….well, ever, it’s Bristol based quintet IDLES.
Opener, Crows, fulfilling support duties throughout the UK/IE tour are met with a healthy reception. The room largely filled, ready and receptive, with many vying for prime positions in this exquisite but intimate music hall.
Frontman James Cox verges over those at the front barrier, casting a gaze as if studying those in the audience whilst spotlight-like torches scorch behind the band. Cox, donning a beige duster orchestrates his band like a military director throughout “Wednesday’s Child”. The set is heavily weighted with tracks from their recent debut release Silver Tongues.
There is a definite punk-like immediacy in Cox’s vocals but he doesn’t play it safe. The man continuously switches between a regular mic and a classic upright unit, the latter adding a dreamy ethereal reverb tone. His lyrics shatter like howling whispers of damnation in the night time air.
Backed up by guitarist Steve Goddard and bassist Jith Amarasinghe, Crows aural attack takes on a whirring-like wall of sound, at times breaking into impossibly cheerful and uplifting patterns reminiscent of a summer block party soundtrack. Charging into set finale, the epic “Chains of Being”, with his head down and straining like a long distance cyclist, is drummer Sam Lister. With an end in sight, Crows turn inwards, all members playing off each other in a maelstrom focused around Lister, a sign of things to come later in the evening.
There is perhaps no other band as urgent, necessary and absolutely compelling as IDLES at present. The time could not be more right for a band that have freed themselves from the shackles of many musical predecessors – genuinely calling it how it is on contemporary, universal subjects ranging from toxic masculinity, to xenophobia and tragic paternal loss, to name a few. IDLES are a band that in a relatively short amount of time have spread their name exponentially across the musical globe, with 6Music recently asserting that they are perhaps one of the few burgeoning bands out there whereby many people will likely know the name of the act, long before hearing the music. Indeed, it is hard to go a day without mention of the band on the wireless or in press. Especially when (laughably) discussing their wardrobe choices at the Brit Awards.
With recent sophomore release Joy As An Act Of Resistance garnering universal acclaim, IDLES have swept up nominations and awards across the board, but appear genuinely affected by their feverish fan base, seemingly their champion accolade.
For it was not only Belfast’s intimate date that sold-out in an instant, but the entire UK/IE run. With each and every date offering an up close and personal, lock-in vibe, on the matter of tonight’s show, the bands manager Mark Bent opined, “People keep saying to me when booking shows in new territories ‘Why are you putting the band in a 300 cap venue when you could easily sell out a 1,200 cap room?’ Well this is why. It can’t be about money or ego. It’s about connecting with people, it’s about seeing the whites of their eyes, it’s about singing every word directly at each other. It’s about including people, bringing them in and taking the journey together. Every single one of those 300 people and the band will have shared something very special that will be talked about for a long time. Make those ‘I was there moments’; those are the ones that the fans cherish and want to share far and wide.”
Bassist Adam “Dev” Devonshire and drummer Jon Beavis assume their rightful positions upon the stage. Without any ceremony, except for overwhelming rapture from the audience, the distinct rim-click of Beavis’s drum sticks on the snare begin. Shaking the foundations of the literally empirical building shortly after is the droning reverberations of Devonshire’s bass guitar, introducing an intimidating atmosphere in which the rest of IDLES make their appearance before us all.
Slowly joining the audible mix are guitarists Lee Kiernan and local-boy Mark Bowen, proudly achieving a long-term goal of making an appearance at the Empire. Well done Mark. With frontman and vocalist Joe Talbot perched, chin in hand assessing the crowd from above, the guys give us “Colossus”.
Momentum never drops an ounce this evening, with “Never Fight A Man With A Perm” following in quick succession, most in attendance are caught up in an emphatic sing-along, song after emotive, beautiful, brutal song. Impossible, really to avoid with such instantly memorable chants and sincere yet wit-laced lyricism.
Bowen, kitted out in only trainers and nifty, snug sports pants has, without question, dressed for the occasion, and the only member certain to avoid imminent heat exhaustion. It is clear however that there is no stage large enough to contain the man. It’s surprising then that it is not until the infectiously catchy “Danny Nedelko” that he finally fully escapes the confines of the platform, taking to the palms of the audience, who prop him up above their heads, standing tall. A sight to behold for both parties, Bowen is rescued by one of the bands technicians, who in return gets a gleeful kiss upon the cheek whilst the band enter into a brief but fitting rendition of “I Can Be Your Hero, Baby”.
Indeed, kisses are suggested all around, as Joe confronts a perplexing heckler who has held up two raised middle fingers to the stage for much of the set now. Joe’s suggestion to “save middle fingers for Eminem… or Sleaford Mods” would be fitting, as it is hard to fault a single aspect of this performance, even summoning the services of hopeful drummer and diehard fan, Lochláinn Kelly. At numerous occasions he attempts to convey his message to the band “Please can I play drums on “Romantic Gestures” via his portable electronic calling device. A song originally not on the set tonight…
But Lochláinn does exactly that. Stunningly well in fact. With the biggest look of shock and joy upon his face, and all of IDLES giddy, he doesn’t miss a beat of “Romantic Gestures” and clearly relishes every moment.
“Lochláinn” chants reprise long into the evening, he even returns to the stage to assist Bowen’s guitar duties on “Love Song” – dedicated to a special lady in tonight’s audience.
Following “Television”, Joe’s long awaited Guinness makes it’s way into his clasped hands, raised to his lips amid epic strings building up a momentous event, eclipsed only by what happens next.
2017’s Brutalism track “Exeter” sees the tireless Kiernan and Bowen part the crowd like the Red Sea. Making their way into the middle and splintering to either side of the room, Bowen atop the Bar, and Kiernan balanced on the railings of the raised floor. A lucky lady on this raised section is gifted with Lee’s glistening gold Fender Telecaster, and appears about as unfamiliar with the instrument as if she had been handed the keys to the Batmobile. Regardless, a cacophony of noises is generated, especially once Bowen’s axe reaches the hands of another lucky jammer, now up onstage with the band belting out Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”…
IDLES’ grand finale tonight is closing track from Joy, the aptly titled “Rottweiler”. Pummeling through a visceral yet passionate set, the show culminates in hysteria-inducing feedback and droning at the tail end of “Rottweiler”, with all members plowing instruments into the ground, hands cranking effects pedals, with Bowen, Talbot and Beavis behind the kit, surgically eviscerating it where it stands.
“Don’t buy The Sun, it’ll give you cancer. Goodnight”…GO AND SEE IDLES.
Review & Photography: Mike Lockheart
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