Idles in Vicar Street, Dublin, 2 April, 2019
Forget about your irony, your cynicism, your too-cool-for-caring post-modernism, Idles are a band who aren’t afraid to embrace a bit of good old fashioned sincerity. Mixed in with the hardcore-tinged post-punk fury of their sound is a positivity message of hopeful solidarity, and they aren’t afraid to wear that emotion right there on the surface.
And so, between numbers, Idles frontman Joe Talbot practically gushes to the Vicar Street crowd. He lays out exactly what it is the band are singing about: Toxic masculinity, depression, addiction, class, racism, homophobia. And perhaps most importantly, if there’s one message that Idles are all about, it’s that the connection formed through music means something.
Although they’ve been around for a while now (their first EP came out in 2012) it’s only in the last year or two that they’ve come onto most people’s radar. Following on from a mighty show in the Button Factory last year (Read our review here), the Bristol five-piece have been picking up acclaim and fans exponentially. Thus Vicar Street show had been sold out for months, and Idles already have a return to Dublin planned with a Iveagh Gardens show in July.
But such is the sincere power of the night you’d suspect that the bond with the fans has been built up over a couple of decades, rather than a couple of years.
Towards the end of the show Talbot – during one of his many asides – tells Vicar Street that Idles aren’t a punk band. “Soul was punk before punk was a thing,” he says, so why not think of Idles as a soul band.
There’s a legitimate argument here for sure. Beneath the roaring, feedback-drenched riffs and growling hardcore vocals, there’s a certain easy melody to most of Idles songs. You couldn’t quite call it pop, but there’s more than one moment where you’d be forgive the opening up a circular gap in the crowd for a slow dance rather than a mosh pit.
Idles know just how to take the marriage of violence and positivity that critics have claimed doesn’t really exist in heavy metal, or punk, or grunge, or countless other genres – and hammer it home with ferocious clarity. Take Television, which lands like a warhead right at the end of the show and sees Talbot leaping around the stage, beating his chest and miming punches to his own face – all while he screams the refrain of “If someone talked to you/ The way you do to you/ I’d put their teeth through/ Love yourself”.
There’s no apathy here. The world may be a tough, mean place, with systems of oppression designed to batter the fuck out of you – but Idles have found a way to reflect that without resorting simply to bitter hopelessness. And here’s perhaps why they don’t quite fit with the label of punk. Their songs ooze with intensity that drips with anger, but also with heartfelt sincerity.
A sincere, sweaty couple of hours culminates in Rottweiler, a buck wild tirade that devolves from racing melody to an abstract swirl of sound as Talbot vacates the stage entirely and the remainder of the band give themselves over to the generation of layers upon layers of screeching feedback. The whole thing culminates into an effect like a single unbroken five minute scream – a singular blast of noise that underscores everything that band have been getting at.
When Idles called their second LP ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ they meant it. Seeing them lives confirms that this is a band with a mission, and how well they deliver on that is something worth seeing live.