We were already living in some kind of perverse dystopia before COVID-19 happened to us, but if all this time alone, isolated and socially-distanced, has taught us anything, it’s that there are pockets of light shining brighter than ever in the darkness.
These bright lights – from the people fighting oppression on the streets, to the people fighting hatred online, to the people doing their best to uplift and amplify voices that aren’t their own – have found a way to come together despite being told to stay apart. This community spirit – the organic, unabashed, pure love – amongst people who truly feel for each other, and who want each other to succeed, is heartening for those of us who find little joy in the modern world.
IDLES are the ideal band for these times, and each of their three live-streamed ‘Lock-In Sessions’ showcase exactly why. In Joe Talbot, they have an outspoken figurehead who barks and howls and roars in the face of oppression and calls out bullshit wherever he sees it – even in himself. The rest of the band – Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan on guitars, Adam Devonshire on bass and Jon Beavis on drums – make music that ranks amongst the fiercest produced by any band, in any genre, anywhere in the world.
Much like our own Mike Watkins, and his reluctance to get behind the notion of live-streamed gigs, I didn’t find the prospect of sitting down to take in a band performing via laptop. It seemed like a poor substitute for the real thing, and a reminder that there is no alternative, with most gigs cancelled until next year. But with my reluctance also came a little spark of hope. If any band were capable of pulling off something as audacious and ‘clichéd’ (to use their own word)) as performing three sets at Abbey Road, to an audience of none, then IDLES would be the band to do it.
Nurturing that spark of hope was beautifully rewarded by three electrifying performances, across two days this last Bank Holiday Weekend. If you were lucky enough to take in all three sets, or if you watched one of the clips on YouTube (retweeted by the band, so I guess that’s okay?), then you’ll see a band at the peak of their powers, making such a furious racket that it’d be hard to deny that they’re in the top tier of live bands out there right now. Obviously watching a video is not substitute for a real gig but IDLES do their best to make it feel as authentic as possible.
Across the sets, you get to hear all of the songs you know and love, and a handful of new ones, but the reason that these shows work isn’t the songs, it’s the personality, humour and vitality that the band bring to the little screen. For example, when Talbot forgets his own lyrics in ‘I’m Scum’ (and make hilarious improvisations to cover for them), it’s hard not to laugh along with the band and feel like you’re taking part in it, that you’re having some kind of experience that you’d otherwise have missed.
Equally as fun are their choice of covers (there’s one unique cover per set). The band’s chameleonic ability to adapt their sound to suit songs pulled from various corners of musical history has always been one of their strongest traits – and if you’ve not heard their mashup of songs by The Streets for Radio 1, that should be your next destination after reading this. Without ruining the surprise, IDLES treat you to a “14 minutes long” cover of a Ramones classic; a hybrid cover of The Beatles’ fiercest song mixed with Placebo’s ‘Pure Morning’; and a surprisingly inventive rendition of a banger by The Strokes.
But more than anything, you’ll see, hear and experience joy in spite of all the darkness out there in the world. Sheer joy, brought about by a punk band from Bristol. To paraphrase my favourite comment on an IDLES YouTube video (thanks Alex Edwards), they deserve to win a Brit, an Oscar, the FA Cup, all of it after this. Long may they reign.
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Words: Ross Horton
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