It’s incredibly fun to dance in a long-awaited fit of joy with fellow IDLES fans. The A.F. Gang has always cultivated loving mosher camaraderie aligned with the band’s inclusive lyrics, making it a pit where you can relax and let go. In fact, you have to let go. You can’t fight all the movement, but even when it gets intense, you’re safely swathed in the invisible bubble wrap of everyone’s kindness. During the Bristol band’s fiery two-night run at New York City’s Terminal 5 (October 15-16th), strangers became buddies throughout the huge crowd – which spanned a wide range of ages and personalities. The multi-level venue, baking with body heat, was packed on Friday and even crazier on Saturday. If you go way back with IDLES like we do, you know how uplifting it’s been to watch their base increase like this. And because the A.F. Gang is a community of acceptance vs. gatekeeping, the first-timers are always brought in with warmth. They were answered gently, not teased, when they asked things (overheard at T5) like “What are their names?” (Joe, Adam, Bobo, Lee, and Jon!) and “Is this their first time in the states?” (certainly not, but welcome aboard!) When the boys whipped out some early bangers from Brutalism, T5 was a surprising mix of dropped-jaw newcomers and old gangers screaming the words like they’re tattooed on their skin. Since it was two full years since their last NYC show (also at T5), IDLES had two albums of new material (Ultra Mono and the forthcoming CRAWLER) to potentially squeeze in – plus all the old hits fans have been waiting to hear. Friday night’s eighteen-song set was perfectly balanced: the first single plus a live debut from CRAWLER (due out on November 12th), seven songs from the chart-crushing Joy as an Act of Resistance, six from Ultra Mono, and three from Brutalism.
It’s nice to see IDLES are still starting shows with “Colossus,” perhaps their best suspense-builder with its semi-terrifying repetition of “it’s coming!” Before the song’s pinnacle, Joe Talbot paused coolly to carry on a tradition. “Split the crowd in two,” he commanded. The experience of being along the divide when the people collide should be on every thrill-seeker’s bucket list. “Split the crowd into two halves: right and left. Have you seen Braveheart? There you go. Hello sir! Ready? Are you ready? ONE-TWO!” That freeing explosion of glee was soon followed by IDLES’ live debut of “Car Crash,” a song that NYC eagerly ate up. Talbot’s rhythmic delivery builds up to the declaration, “I’m a car crash / I can feel my hands vibrate / I can feel my hands vibrate.” Several times, Talbot leaned back to spit into the air behind him: a tiny characteristic gesture that made life feel normal once again. Right then, so many fans were requesting “Mr. Motivator” that it seemed like they’d peeked at the setlist. In the fuzzy recording taken from my pocket, I can hear myself say “Oh shit” with fearful hilarity – right after Talbot sneers, “How’d you like them clichés?” The happy tangle of limbs in T5 began jumping so hard, it felt like everyone lost their balance at the same moment – as if the floor had lurched beneath us.
We got to finally see that “strength in numbers” embodied as the audience flipped for “Grounds,” a captivating highlight fueled by Mark Bowen’s pleasing bl-dldl-ee-oop delay pedal effect. Hearing so many people scream “UNIFY” was stirring. As if in response, Talbot asked, “Lighting person, can you light up our new friends please?” T5 transformed from a dark ocean of bones into many individual happy faces. “We’ve been waiting two years for this moment. Thank you so fucking much. You know, we have it fuckin’ easy because we have the security and we knew that we’d be coming back to you beautiful people. We just want you to know that we are so fucking grateful for the way you make us feel every fucking time we play. I missed you very very very much. I just hope that we can make you feel the way you make us feel all the time. With that in mind, I’d like to play you the song that means the most to me: ‘Mother.’” If you know that bruiser of a hit, you know how much the room went off right then. And something fascinating happens when Talbot counts five, six, and seven days a week: of course, everyone puts up five fingers first. Then they’re forced to put up two hands for six and seven fingers – so the air is suddenly filled with arms. Those crowd-surfing fans can’t resist a sea of outstretched arms, so you can guess what happens next. Bowen and Lee Kiernan did some surfing too as per tradition, but they seemed a bit more cautious with their diving on night one.
After “Mother” shook up T5 like a rattle, Talbot stated, “One of the beautiful things about playing in New York is that you make us feel at home. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank security for looking after you in your beautiful home.” Scanning the fans to his left and spotting an A.F. Ganger’s daughter, Talbot said, “So I’ve just read a sign that says, Can I please sing ‘Scum?’ I’m sorry, I can’t answer that, you’re going to have to get up here and show us! Whoa whoa whoa…in about six songs’ time. Don’t fuck with the qi. We’ll get there. What’s your name? Caitlyn’s going to sing ‘I’m Scum’ with us tonight.” He looked down at the herd of cheering humans and added, “And they’re all so happy and fired up that at the end of the song they’re going to get to the top tier and jump off and you’re going to catch them. I’m joking, I’m joking,” Talbot giggled, clearly enjoying how NYC had readily approved of his risky proposal. “Anxiety” was another full-crowd freak-out that crescendoed furiously into those six-”yah” chants at the end. During the raging “Samaritans,” it was beautiful hearing so many young men singing along at full volume; the next generation seems well-positioned to beat the toxic “mask of masculinity” Talbot confronts in the lyrics. The heavy “Divide and Conquer” became a fierce mosh, as if our elbows and knees could defeat the “barren-hearted right” that very night. A hilariously shrill collective squeal occurred in the first “wa-CHIIING of Ultra Mono’s “War.” The onomatopoeia-laden treat featured savage drumming by Beavis, who was visibly having a blast behind the set.
“Oh yeah, I know this next one,” Talbot said with a grin. “I remember these lyrics.” Before revealing the song, he continued his Friday-only talkative streak. “You make me feel so fucking good. This is the best feeling in the world right here. This. Right fucking now. We have spent the last two years spending our time making more music, but also, pondering and wishing for you all to be as lucky as we are. We’re fucking grateful that you’ve brought us back here. Thank you so much. You’re surrounded by fucking talented musicians who aren’t as lucky as us, so I promise you, we’ll work our fucking asses off for you; thank you. Forever. This song is a celebration of the underpinnings of your country; the gateway to your city…immigrants!” Of course, the unifying “Danny Nedelko” came next, with some wild guitar tones from Bowen and Kiernan that made it extra special. And what a thrill that IDLES classic “1049 Gotho” is still popping up at this stage of their fame. It’s a delight to chant that “five fucking minutes” line with so many lovely humans – folks who simply encourage you with supportive grins if you get rowdy or noisy. Up next, just as Talbot had promised, Caitlin got to come up and sing lead vocals with IDLES on the beloved “I’m Scum,” and she rocked it. This supremely catchy anthem will forever remind me of a phone call with Joe Talbot in 2018 when he told me, “I think we just draw empathetic scumbags to the table, and it feels great, you know? I’m in love with it.” Adam Devonshire’s ultra-percussive bass on “Reigns” brought out some of the loudest screaming of the night and the song secured its spot as a major live highlight. The watermelon-flavored sweetness of “Love Song” included snippets of “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, and then, just like in 2018, their passionate take on “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.
IDLES then invited a fan named Dan onstage to drum on “Danke,” dedicating the song to his late mother. “So earlier on, we arrived at the venue and met a new friend outside whose mother sadly passed away this year from cancer. We weren’t going to play this song tonight, so I’d like you to help us out by going fucking apeshit for our friend’s lost mother, okay? This song’s for you,” he told Dan, giving him a hug and the drumsticks. “Thank you so much for coming. Thanks for sharing with us. We love you very much. I’ll try not to fuck it up this time.” During this scorcher, Talbot’s lyrics, “True love will find you in the end / You will find out just who was your friend” hit even harder in the crowded live setting. IDLES’ newest single, the soulful “The Beachland Ballroom” (from CRAWLER) felt like magic when T5’s disco ball glimmered to life. There were arms waving and actual lighters in the air as fans showed off their quick retention of the emotive lyrics. The energy boiled over into a punchy “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” with vicious drumming by Beavis, and it was difficult to accept that the show was about to end. “This is our last fucking song! And we wrote said song to celebrate anti-fascism. We believe that the literal antithesis to said cunts is community!” With that in mind, they brought up the opening band, Brooklyn’s Gustaf, to play with them on a kickass cut of “Rottweiler.” Remarkably, IDLES returned to an even bigger throng of adoring scumbags on Saturday night. As I attended that one just for fun, the coverage ends here, but it’s worth noting that I look like a peach that rolled down the stairs, and it’s a wonderful memory. The unique brew of tough love and togetherness brought out by IDLES’ catchy prose is something that can only be felt when this band is standing before you.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley