Words & Images: Karum Cooper
I’d been told by a number of friends/journalists/bandmates that IDLES were definitely a band to watch and that the homecoming Bristol date of their UK tour would be absolutely crazy.
As I approached Bristol’s infamous Fleece I saw the queue before I even saw the front doors. I knew I’d be in for a good night.
First up was JOHN named such due to both members sharing the name. Monster behind the kit John number one was one of the most eager drummers I’ve ever come across. With an absolute hostile ferocity, he definitely laid into the kit as much as I hoped he would – and was by far the hardest hitting, most energetic drummer of the night.
What surprised me even further was the sound that came out of his face. The drum kit wasn’t the only medium via which he could display his ferocious punk energy. Screaming hooks with an untamed brutality, he was undoubtedly the driving force behind JOHN.
John number two kept his cool behind an absolutely massive, roaring guitar tone. The noise that came from these two dudes could definitely take on any 5 piece rock band. Unfortunately that’s about as much as I could talk about guitar-wise. Since he didn’t have a microphone, an extremely out of breath drummer was left to handle all crowd interaction in between gulps of water whilst the other John tuned and generally faffed around a little too much resulting in a few rather uncomfortable moments of silence.
The next bunch raised my eyebrows before they’d even taken to the stage. The refreshing mix of characters present in this four piece was very evident. Based on looks & gear alone, I was already intrigued to hear if the group sounded as interesting as they looked.
As soon as the first song was emerged out of a deafening wall of distorted guitar reverb/feedback there was a definite change in dynamic and genre. I’m always open to multi-genre bills but sadly this just didn’t work.
For Scarlet Rascal, playing in between two bare bones, energetic punk bands was not a very good idea at all. There was an extremely obvious drop in energy (both musically and performance-wise). All members were stood very stationary, very similar to the music that they played. Many of the songs tended to drone and drag on quite a lot which was a real mood killer.
Despite sticking out like a sore thumb, Scarlet Rascal had a great vibe and the crowd surprisingly seemed to love it. With shitloads of fascinating guitar effects, a wall of modulated reverb and all members sporting black outfits, the band had a great 80s gothic meets indie-psychedelic vibe that was refreshingly unique. What saved the band from being boring for me was intensely beguiling frontman Luke Brookes. He had charisma and charm streaming from every orifice in his body. Of all members he probably moved the least in their 30 minute set yet using just his eyes he managed to capture every single person in the room. He exuded badassery and attitude in a way that I’d never come across before.
Overall Scarlet Rascal were a tight band, they wrote catchy and somewhat nostalgic songs (for me anyway). They were without a doubt an interesting choice in support and changed the entire vibe of the gig. Whether this was in a good or a bad way, I’m not entirely sure but it certainly allowed the crowd to prepare for what was to follow.
IDLES set the scene for the night by initiating a big old ‘family’ style singalong of a classic 80s tune. With arms spread wide, band members and crowd members alike sang along like some kind of celebratory victory chant. Which was actually really nice to be a part of.
From this moment, there was a real community/family vibe in the room and emotions were running wild at this show; hugs were shared between band members before during setup, bottles of Buckfast Tonic wine were passed between audience members and vocalist Joe Talbot and there was an almost sudden influx of ‘older’ gig goers towards the start of IDLES‘ set. It was extremely pleasant to be a part of such a diverse audience (age wise). Whether or not these were parents/family members didn’t matter – they were all there for the music and they were all absolutely loving it.
From the get go, energy levels picked up like a freight train. Lead guitarist Mark Bowen brought a quirky, sporadic and fit-like performance which was counteracted with rhythm guitarist Lee’s bouncy yet nonchalant and comparatively chill approach. Whilst Talbot erupted with a strange mixture of pent up frustration and extreme joy, it was absolute madness on stage, especially in comparison to Scarlet Rascal beforehand.
Familiar single ‘Well Done’ was the second track to come in the set and well done it was! Blisteringly obvious that IDLES have perfected their live show. They emit an immensely raw and visceral punk energy whilst coming across as friendly, funny and extremely cheeky. From Talbot flicking band mates in the balls, jumping on their backs, throwing drumsticks and microphone stands, they were definitely a sight to see. Most impressively of all, the band never dropped a beat and remained exceptionally tight from start to finish – driven forward by the belligerent force of Jon Beavis behind the drum kit.
What separated IDLES from other Bristol bands of their ilk, was the utter dismissal for the barrier separating band from crowd. Talbot was stage diving & crowd surfing during every other song it seemed, he was completely upstaged at one point by Bowen literally jumping into the mosh pit beneath him with guitar in hand and continuing to play almost faultlessly.
IDLES are absolutely a force to be reckoned with. The band kept up energy levels from the start to the moment the finished. They are one of a only a handful of bands I’ve come across to possess such a high energy set, and not get even a little bit tired. Maybe they were aided by the several bottles of Buckfast Tonic or the bottomless cans of Red Stripe. Either way, they knew exactly what they were doing and they did it well. Watch them almost certainly explode in about a year or so. A band with such an undoubtedly incredible live show, such clever, witty lyricism and such tight, visceral riffs deserve to be up with the likes of Slaves and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes taking punk rock to the mainstream.