October 16, 2019 at Royale
There are few frontmen like Joe Talbot, the vocalist for Bristol-based post-punk band IDLES. He is imposing, as any punk rocker should be, wearing sleeves of tattoos up his arm and boasting a vocal style dominated by his growling delivery, punctuated by anthemic choruses and enraged roars. As the band performed their set, he would often toss his head back during the climax of a song, spit on the stage, or stare into the depths of the crowd, pounding his chest with a glare incited by the anger of the music. Joe Talbot is not a man someone would want to pick a fight with.
Joe Talbot, however (and the rest of the hardcore rock band for that matter), are only angry on behalf of their fans. When they aren’t berating the morally corrupt forces of modern society — see: modern media, the UK Conservative Party, bosses who take advantage of their poor workers, and toxic masculinity — they are celebrating diversity and pushing acceptance for all. In this sense, they are carrying on the traditions of punk rock that have existed since its inception — challenging authority, creating a safe environment for society’s outcasts — but spinning it into their own sound and modernizing the movements that the genre represents. There is perhaps no better indicator of this identity than their most recent, critically-acclaimed LP,Joy as an Act of Resistance.
An IDLES show is an emotional roller coaster in the best sense. Their hardest-hitting, most popular songs were played, creating a raucous environment which included multiple members of the band climbing over the barrier to join the crowd’s moshing. If it isn’t clear what the band is all about from their music, such as the first song they performed, “Colossus,” a multi-part punk jam that includes the line “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins,” it should become obvious between their songs. Before playing a song, Talbot would often give a quick dedication or overview. “This song is a feminist song,” he said, pausing as the audience gave a loud, noticeably high-pitched cheer. The song “Mother,” off the band’s first LP (NAME) in (2017), is about Talbot’s late mother, the woman he says taught him what it meant to be a feminist,and derides the abusive labor practices and pervasive culture of sexual assault againstwomen. Other times, he delivered impassioned calls for community building and solidarity in the fight against the establishment. Once, he even boldly proclaimed “Long live socialism!” meant both as a serious statement and an ironic quip at the expense of his American audience. While IDLES can sound like an angry band because of their sound, their existence is built on positivity, fighting for disenfranchised members of society and celebrating their collective strength. It’s the oppressive, ruling class of society that generates the band’s anger, which makes their concerts the quintessential modern punk experience.
Near the end of the show, Talbot prefaced the pro-immigrant anthem “Danny Nedelko” with a diatribe against racism, xenophobia, and fascism, as well as praise for the cultural diversity brought about by hardworking immigrants, which drew applause even from the stoic security guards who had apprehended upwards of 50 crowd surfers \ (earlier in the show, a fan had passed a bouquet of roses up to the band, which Talbot promptly re-gifted to the security guards as an apology for the disorderly audience the band was inciting). One of the most energetic and uplifting songs off the band’s latest album, “Danny Nedelko” is named after the Ukranian-born frontman of a fellow Bristol band, and the audience showed their solidarity by matching the band’s energy every step of the way.
In true punk fashion, IDLES ended the show with pure rage and noise. They performed one of the hardest songs in their catalogue, “Rottweiler,” which was dedicated to “the racist news media in [America].” By the end of the song, Talbot abandoned all vocal activities in favor of jamming his microphone into an amplifier, creating a high-pitched shriek amidst the band’s undisciplined instrumental chaos. Then, he signaled for his mic to be cut off, went towards the back of the stage to join drummer Jon Beavis, smashing the drums with his bare hands. Then the show ended, leaving the audience tired, sweaty, and closer together than they had been just a few hours prior. Despite the songs often being political and wrathful, there was a tangible sense of joy and hopefulness among the crowd, just as IDLES’ identity would dictate.