2020 is the longest we have gone without live music in almost 20 years. We miss them so much and our hearts go out to everyone in the industry who has been affected (mentally, physically and financially) by the devastation caused by both the pandemic and lack of adequate government support.
It’s incredible to think how far streamed gigs have come over the past six months – just think of the difference between the Biffy Clyro sets live from Simon Neil’s living room and that incredible performance at the Barrowlands the other week…
It’s a strange time for bands to be releasing new music but it’s been getting so many of us through over the past few months and there’s plenty more to come over the remainder of the year – not least from Idles, who release their third album ‘Ultra Mono’ at the end of September.
Now, the last time we saw Idles was that incredible set on The Park stage at Worthy Farm last summer – a true ‘Glastonbury moment’ if ever there was one. The spirit of community and togetherness in that packed field (remember crowds?) was something to behold and frontman Joe Talbot was not the only one in tears by the end.
We never thought back then that the next ‘live’ gig we’d see from the Bristol five-piece would be a virtual stream but that’s where we are until things are safe – and as guitarist Bowen said in a recent interview: ‘You don’t go and see a band like Idles in a seated theatre’. As the next best thing, the band decided to launch the new record with three separate sets recorded live at the historic Abbey Road studio.
With a viewing setup similar to those famous KEXP sessions recorded in a studio in Seattle, the first set saw the band burst into the double whammy of ‘Heel/Heal’ and ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’. With the amount of unrest in the country over the course of lockdown and the continued rise of the far right, it’s important bands like Idles continue to spread their messages of unity and this set saw them debut ‘Ultra Mono’ track ‘Kill Them With Kindness’.
All of the false starts and awkward silences between songs were kept in – who wants punk rock to be polished anyway? – and the set felt like a behind-the-scenes glimpse into an Idles rehearsal where every band member was giving 100% to the cause. Oh, and Bowen, so often seen on stage in just his pants, was wearing a fetching orange suit that complemented his moves and guitar-destroying antics at the end of set closer ‘Rottweiler’.
Other highlights of the first set included festival anthem-in-waiting ‘Mr Motivator’ and a fervent run-through of ‘Television’. There was also time for a fairly restrained cover of The Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, which Joe jokingly said reminded him of ‘how bad a singer I am’. After an hour or two’s break, 11.45pm (it’s nice to have a later stage time and not worry about being too tired to drive home/the last train back) was the stage time for set two – and this one contained some of the band’s biggest hits including ‘Colossus’, ‘Mother’, ‘Danny Nedelko’ and latest single ‘Model Village’.
They also ripped through a cover of ‘Reptilia’ by The Strokes – the band that inspired each member to come together and form Idles – and treated viewers to acapella renditions of ‘All You Need is Love’, ‘Up Where We Belong’, ‘Let It Go’ (despite Joe’s reservations that ‘Disney might sue’) and the classic ‘Linger’ by The Cranberries during the breakdown of ‘Love Song’. There may not have been any guitar smashing or dance solos at the end of this set but the closing ‘Well Done’ sounded more potent than ever.
The third and final set, airing at midday on Sunday, found Joe forgetting the lyrics to ‘I’m Scum’ (one of the best things about these sets was the rawness and camaraderie between the five members of the band) and dedicating ‘Faith in the City’ to his Uncle Noel and ‘Samaritans’ to the key workers who have been keeping the country running over the past few months: ‘Long live the NHS. Down with the Tory scum’. Joe also confirmed – for those who don’t do nuance – that so many of Idles songs are about the state of England. The energy levels ramped up towards the end of the set as they finished with a rather apt, fitting and frenetic cover of ‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles.
Halfway through the final set, Joe declared ‘I miss it so fucking much’ and it was clear he didn’t just mean playing with his bandmates – it was the whole aspect of live music and being amongst like-minded people. As tough as it is to count off the rest of the year for gigs as we all know and love them, they will return and these three sets – as fine a temporary replacement as they were – not only whetted the anticipation for the new record but also made everyone watching SO excited for hearing that first note back in a true setting, be it in your favourite local independent venue, an academy, open-air stadium or field in the middle of next summer.