“I’m not here for the shoes, I’m here for youse,” IDLES frontman Joe Talbot flatters the 60 lucky people struggling to stay upright in front of him. Crammed into the tiny history-laden DM’s Boot Room in Camden, the Bristol five-piece are far from the sold-out 1000-plus-capacity shows they’ll be headlining over the next few months. But, in a place famed for rebellion and self-expression, they’re right at home.
They’re not ones to ease the crowd in. Straight away, they head back to 2017’s Brutalism with the snarling vocals of ‘Heel/Heal’ and slashing guitars in ‘Well Done’. It’s the latter that raises the bar, even with the set being in its early stages. Chants about Tarquin and our girl Mary Berry rile up the crowd. Bodies are thrown everywhere, and those feeling the brunt of the energy make their quick escape to the bar.
In a room so small, they don’t need to do anything special to add to the atmosphere. Guitarist Mark Bowen is his typical self and goes absolutely nuts. Not even breaking a string in their homage to the NHS, ‘Divide and Conquer’, can break his spirit. Jon Beavis has his drumsticks balanced on his face, and fellow guitarist Lee Kiernan and Adam Devonshire are just having a laugh. Everyone laps it up.
It’s not all about the heavy riffs and on-stage jokes, their chat gets the crowd even more in a stir. “This next one might as well be a Sleaford Mods track,” Talbot jokes with a retaliating scream of “fuck ‘em” coming from somewhere else in the room. With all the recent press around the band being called out for ‘class appropriation’, it’d be hard to not bring it up. Instead of rising to it, they’re quick to crush it.
“Middle class white man can care too,” he shouts with passion before pushing onto a new track and adding: “Put your phones away, if anyone films or records this I’m stopping and going home.” Even one person streaming the gig via Facebook Live is quick to put her phone down and check out the new material.
“This one sounds like Sleaford Mods and Slaves,” Joe adds before riffs verging on sirens, and wails sounding more like a baby than a warning sign blast out. This is the sound of racing drums, fast-paced guitar thrashing and dirty vocals that all blend together to make one hard-hitting track. It’s promising, and follows the tried and tested IDLES formula but why change something if it works?
Screams of “this is the sound of…” and “this means war” echo around the room and are soon picked up and screamed back by those wanting to be in on the new music secret. An abrupt end calls for Talbot to smoothly add, “Glad none of you recorded that as it was fucking shite.” It wasn’t – don’t worry about that.
It’s a high-impact race to the end of the set. The floor is quaking under the command of Beavis’ drums and everyone crashing into it wanting to get a piece of the action. It’s such a mess, there’s songs being dedicated to those who can’t give the band any personal space through no fault of their own and Kiernan deciding the middle of the room is where he wants to play now. It all adds to the energy, with the ferocity being shown on stage being thrown right back.
Surrounded by so many of their most dedicated fans, IDLES can’t help but exude confidence in what they’re doing. They’ve put on a good show and they know it. They’ve been around for a decade, and have worked out what works for them. Even with their new track, there’s none of that awkward first-live-listen where nobody gets involved, they’ve got it sorted.
When you see them live, you can tell they genuinely care about the subjects they write about. It’s hard not to mention the headlines they’ve been involved in, but IDLES are right. Anyone can question authority within music. It doesn’t mean that they’re punk for doing so, or are appropriating class. They’re raising awareness of everything we should care about. It just helps they make great music and put on a great live show.