Rarely I have seen a connection between a band and its audience as powerful as the one between IDLES and the crowd at the Fonda Theatre on Friday night. But this is what you get when a band has a message fitting for our times and delivers it with such conviction, such passion and in such brutal (but in a good way) manner. Frontman Joe Talbot has all the charisma and the theatricality of a punk rock star, but he also has plenty of impactful words which were on every lip all night long. This was the third of their three sold-out shows at the Fonda, a very telling testimony of Los Angelinos’ love for the Bristol band,
IDLES, that was formed in 2012, consists of frontman/singer Joe Talbot, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, bassist Adam Devonshire and drummer Jon Beavis, and they have released three albums: “Brutalism” in 2017, “Joy as an Act of Resistance” in 2018, and “Ultra Mono” last year. If I had heard of them plenty of times, I already had caught half of their performance at Desert Daze a few years ago, just before a violent storm shut down the festival. I still had visions of these crazies dancing half-naked while the rain had just started falling and I wanted to see them again since that show. I was not disappointed and this is an understatement.
The band Gustaf opened the show, an almost all-female art-punk band – guitarist Vram Kherlopian is the only man while Tine Hill is on bass, Melissa Lucciola on drums, Tarra Thiessen on vocals and percussion, and Lydia Gammill on lead vocals – that played an energetic set, with an almost DEVO-esque vibe – or maybe Talking Heads-ish or B-52s-ish? From what I could catch from the lyrics, they seemed to have a great sense of humor, and the music, on the quirky side, was often danceable with angular basslines, stuttering funky guitars, and a mocking vocal delivery. Their enjoyable circus was led by Lydia Gammill’s theatrical stage presence, and they made a great impression on the crowd.
IDLES’ performance was pure positive energy, raging on full cylinders for two hours. It was a sweaty, blistering, and roaring demonstration that defiant punk rock is fully alive. Everything was delivered with urgency, fist-pumping and boot-stomping, while the music had these intense sonic build-ups whose tension was released as primal screams, beat-accelerations, and pure chaos. They started with “Colossus” a track off their “Joy as an Act of Resistance” album, a song that begins with sinister bass lines before exploding into a powerful vein-pumping rage and wailing guitars: Talbot was in full character (or was he?) an embodiment of hypermasculinity to bring down hypermasculinity, all boots, muscles, and visceral delivery, with aggressive lines such as “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin/I put homophobes in coffins,” “I’m like Evel Knievel/I break bones for my people.” But everyone laughed when he said: “There is only one fucking queen in our country and that’s me.” Hypermasculinity is just one of the topics that IDLES tackle in their socially-and-politically-charged lyrics, and as they were going through materials from their 3 albums, plus a few new songs, Talbot barked like the best dog you would ever know. Loyal to the human cause, he was giving a voice to all the underdogs whom the upper class despises, and raging against our most common fears and ressentiment such as immigration, privilege classes, shallowness of modern living, and even death. His vocals, commanding but froggy graveling, was the voice of someone who has yelled nonstop for sevendays. But since IDLES have been touring since the beginning of October, this must be the case.
Between “Brutalism” and “Ultra Mono,” their menacing and muscular sound never stopped, bringing waves of distortion, and Talbot’s half-spoken roar successfully fighting to keep its place above the chaos. The whole crowd was with them during the entire show, you could feel the incredible energy coming from the audience, even from the balcony above where everyone was standing up for these men who are standing up in a world in crumbles: “What a fucking dream!” told us Talbot between two songs, admiring the view of the room. During “I’m Scum,” he made the entire theatre kneeled and enjoyed the moment, “Seize the moment, put the camera down,” he said before raging to another noisy crescendo that made everyone raised: the line “This snowflake’s an avalanche” made complete sense.
IDLES’ style is pure savagery, mayhem of sour to abrasive guitars, an eardrum abuse, glitchy and cacophonous while the beats are almost danceable. On stage, they were electrifying, Talbot was constantly on the edge of the stage, haranguing the crowd and roaring like a mad tiger, whereas guitarists Mark Bowen (wearing a long dress) and Lee Kiernan were pure lightning, restless and reckless, doing acrobatic figures with their instruments, jumping in the middle of the crowd, standing in fragile balance on the rail for an entire number, and even crowd surfing. But this breakneck ride would be just a stunt without the vitriolic message, without the controversial and dense lyrics of the songs, rich in vivid and colorful imagery including a multitude of pop culture references.
Whether they were evoking Kathleen Hanna “grabbing Trump by the pussy” or Flava Fav “riding on the back of John Wayne” (“Mr. Motivator”), it was difficult to resist to this rebellion to the status quo, this protest music poking fun at everything, this sarcasm, and absurdism to make a point, this rage against war. The excitation of the crowd was understandable, but it was more than a fist-in-the-air moment, because Joe Talbot told us in so many ways that they cared, cared about the working class, cared about us the people, cared about unity in the face of those who seek to drive us apart, and the show became a promise of love and a better future, as corny as it sounds: “Love Song” was dedicated to everyone in the audience and performed with a long medley of love songs – from Prince’s “Nothing Compares to You” to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” to Dirty Dancing’s “Time of my Life” to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” and many others – a fun moment, with Lee Kiernan playing a guitar loop in the middle of the crowd and Mark Bowen trying to keep his balance on the rail. Unity, in the chorus of “Danny Nedelko” a song about immigrants, was celebrated thanks to a friend – “we met weeks ago” – a Lil Nas X look-alike wearing a pink cowboy hat, who performed the song after being called on stage. He was a riot, wearing a Riot Fest shirt, and this could have been the show grand final mixing defiance and compassion but there was still “Rottweiler.” The “anti-fascist song,” that was circling back to “unity,” was performed with the help of Gustaf, and when you think IDLES could not top the ear-bleed chaos, you are proved wrong. “We will never forget this for the rest of our lives,” Joe Talbot told us before the song, sounding as sincere as he was menacing when singing “Destroy the world!/Burn your house down!” Looking at the faces when leaving the theater, the same thought was apparently on many minds, and this has to be the power of unity
Divide and Conquer
The Beachland Ballroom
Never Fight a Man with a Perm
Love Song (with a long medley of love songs)
Danny Nedelko (sung by a friend)
Rottweiler (with Gustaf)
Creem -America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1971 (Volume 3, Number 6)
“Sure, we don’t pay much but then who else do ya know who’ll publish you?”
in the immortal words of Jason Isbell to me at Gov Ball a coupla years ago: “let’s do this…”
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old school Puerto Rican underground sounds
a masterful pop about loving a drug addict
Interpol is at Just Like Heaven
the best post punk UK rock band alive
a beautiful set that held our trust like a child
“We’ll see you next time”
A(S)F on top with a real baddie