Live Reviews Music

IDLES punch and embrace Brixton

IDLES use their brute force and newfound mastery of nuance and subtlety to share their passion, vitriol, and, ultimately, joy with an enraptured Brixton Academy crowd.

Gigs, they say, should start with a bang. Literal pyrotechnics, epic walk-on music, a high-speed hit song, even a straightforward city-based greeting are all designed to grab an audience’s attention right away.

Someone forgot to tell IDLES. Or the band just didn’t listen. Either way, they’ve come up with something even more effective.

They stroll on to a barely lit stage and launch into a slow, repetitive bass groove punctuated by an occasional chiming guitar riff. Someone waves. Joe Talbot jumps on the spot once or twice. After what seems like five minutes, he starts singing. “It was February,” he croons as slowly as the music of MT 420 RR builds and builds and builds. The tension keeps pace, only released as the drums kick in and Talbot bellows repeatedly “Are you ready for the storm?”

The question’s rhetorical of course. The 5,000 fans hanging on every guttural roar and chest thump have clearly been ready since these Brixton Academy shows were originally announced back in August 2020. They’re so ready that, even with Covid checks in place, the venue’s just about full a whole hour before the headliners take the stage.

The support acts not only make the most of the turnout, they revel in the ever-building sense of anticipation. Wych Elm’s emotional, grunge-tinged confessions take on an urgency far beyond the studio recordings, adding further grit to their early ’90s vibe (Hole meets Nirvana by way of Pixies, if you’re feeling reductive).

Similarly, Wet Leg bulk out the sound of their quirky indie anthems without ever losing any of the idiosyncrasies. Backed by a touring drummer, bassist, and guitarist/keyboard player, singer-guitarists Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers look and sound supremely confident. Seemingly unfazed by all the attention and expectation heaped on them despite releasing just four tracks, the Isle Of Wight duo bounce through eight impossibly irresistible songs.

Wet Dream bops like a ’60s pop hit, complete with that unmistakably retro drum fill, behind Teasdale’s typically cheeky vocal. The angular Oh No sounds more jagged and playful on stage. Too Late Now shimmers and grooves, exploding into glorious technicolor after an impressively high-speed deadpan run through a mouthful-and-a-half verse. Of the unreleased songs, the slow singalong Supermarket and loud-quiet jangle Angelica are obvious standouts. But it’s Chaise Longue that gets all the glory. The one that started it all (2.5 million views and counting on YouTube), is greeted with the cheers and mass singing usually reserved for a headliner, right down to a sea of voices shouting the signature “what?” in unison. Teasdale and Chambers can’t help but laugh.

Talbot’s joy isn’t as obvious (“My face may not show it, but I’m very happy,” he declares after a particularly brutal Mother), but it’s just as contagious — and even more cathartic. It’s there in the audience’s high-energy workout during a soul-shaking Mr Motivator. It’s there as the fans rush to the front to join the mosh pits as Never Fight A Man With A Perm begins and Talbot asks: “Are you ready to look after each other?”

It’s there when the singer gets the sweaty masses in the stalls to crouch and then leap up en masse during a rare moment of quiet in the raging I’m Scum, before he jokingly draws a comparison to Kaiser Chiefs.

It’s definitely there in the fist-raised “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, ah, ah, ah, ah” during the celebration of immigrants, Danny Nedelko.

As ever, the joy and catharsis are paired with body rattling volume levels, contrasted with undiluted vitriol, and Trojan-horsed with lyrical themes as diverse as mental health, toxic masculinity, the NHS, class struggle, addiction, capitalism, and grief.

What’s different are the texture and nuance the new songs bring to the show. Yes, Idles still can (and do) wreck their way through tracks like 1049 Gotho with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. But latest album CRAWLER explores the light and shade first suggested by setlist staple Collider back in 2018.

Yes, the ferocious Crawl! easily holds its own against musical brutes like Samaritans, but The Wheel contributes a swampy groove and what’s destined to be a future call and response with the audience (“Can I get a hallelujah?”). The swaying Beachland Ballroom not only approximates a waltz (with added guitar stabs and a booming crescendo); it comes with a mirror ball to offset the neons and harsh strobes preferred by the lighting designers.

Car Crash introduces distorted hip-hop-phrased vocals, dark synths, and a droning electro bassline. The tender Progress, mainly guitar and voice, is the closest IDLES have come to a ballad. And The End, which fittingly closes the show, masterfully dilutes the band’s piledriving impulses with a particularly strong melody and a frankly elegant chorus that declares “Life is beautiful”.

Watching Talbot still giving it his all, lifted by the audience’s voices, it’s hard to disagree.

IDLES | Wet Leg | Wych Elm
Brixton Academy, London
16 January 2022

Photo: Paul Grace

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