IDLES truly are one of the most explosive live bands currently touring today; anyone who has experienced one of their shows knows this. The first time I saw them in 2019 (I admit I was a little late to the game with them, so missed their earlier NYC shows, but caught up quickly. See pics I shot for Brooklyn Vegan at the time) I was knocked right off my axis, I had never seen anything like them before and I’ve seen A LOT of shows in my life. It really took me months to get over what I had seen and experienced that night (I mean that in the best way possible) and I immediately knew this was a band I was never going to miss a New York show of ever again.
So when they announced they were coming back to the US for a fall tour earlier this year, I was cautiously optimistic but didn’t get my hopes too far up in case a sudden uptick in Covid cases thwarted things or some other issue would cause snags in them getting here. Right up until their first show of the tour I kept checking social media for any bad news of a cancellation which fortunately never came. It was with great excitement I made my way to Terminal 5 on Friday 10/15 for the first of two nights they’d be in New York with hometown greats, Gustaf.
And speaking of Gustaf, what a truly compelling and innovative band they are. I love their low brow, high concept take on post punk and was thrilled to see them on such a big stage. They’ve worked relentlessly on their live show the last few years and all that work has paid off as they absolutely made a seamless transition from the smaller/DIY setting to being a presence on a larger stage. I caught an early show in 2018 and I admit at first I was confused as to what was happening because there’s a lot going on — it’s not every day you see a band with a coffee can and a rubber chicken as part of it’s instrumentation after all — but I quickly settled in for the ride and fell in love with their weirdly wonderful brand of art punk.
Having just released their much awaited debut album, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs, they played a good portion of the album, which I absolutely loved. But even more so, I loved seeing/hearing those songs in the live setting. I think this is their greatest strength, as a live band, because their live show not only showcases them as rock solid musicians, but as natural performers. Being the opening band is a lot harder than people give credit for, you have to really bring it and bring it hard to warm up a crowd that you know isn’t necessarily there to see you and may not even be paying attention to you. Having been in the opening band many times myself, I know this is not an easy role in general and then when you add in opening for a band like IDLES… it becomes even more of a hurdle. But Gustaf effortlessly rose to that challenge and immediately won the crowd over, taking command of the stage and wowing the audience. Out of all the other bands I’ve seen open for IDLES before, Gustaf was hands down the best of the bunch.
Gustaf at Terminal 5
They have a distinct sound of course, peppered by dual vocals (one of which is heavily distorted to sound comically deep) and are held together by a locked in rhythm section, but they also bring a wonderful playfulness to things, all of which adds up to their own brand of rock n roll weirdness on stage and off. Forceful yet controlled, driving with a measured intensity which they push out and pull back on on a dime. I can’t think of another band doing what they are doing right now and I am again, so happy to see one of Brooklyn’s own taking it as far as they have already. They are sure to keep that trajectory going as they make more and more fans along the route of this tour.
By the time IDLES came to the stage, the anticipation was thick in the room. Thanks to Covid, it had been two years (almost to the day) since their last show in New York (also at Terminal 5, which I shot for Brooklyn Vegan), and the band had not been able to tour here (or much at all even in the UK) in support of 2020’s superb Ultra Mono. Even with Terminal 5 (in)famously not really being a favorite place to see a show among rock fans, it was obvious the fans were hungry for IDLES and they didn’t care what venue it was in as long as they got to be there for it. As the opening bass chords of “Colossus” thundered throughout the room, the intensity crackled in the air and it set the stage for the next 90minutes of raw fucking power.
Singer Joe Talbot brings a dominating presence to the stage, his voice booming and snarling at the helm of the ship while the impenetrable fortress of a rhythm section — bassist Adam “Dev” Devonshire and powerhouse drummer Jon Beavis — anchor the whole thing (seriously name a tighter rhythm section in the game today, I’ll wait). Guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan bring a dual high end assault to things, flitting around wildly, floating on top of it all, throwing themselves and their guitars seemingly everywhere at once, all while never missing a note. For song after song after song after song, the band never let up, they never seemed to get tired or show any sign of fatigue.
Clearly time away from the road hasn’t slowed them down a bit and you could tell they were just as hyped to be in New York as the fans were to have them here. Lead guitarist Bowen told me after the show that New York is “the best place to play” and that the band loves being here (we also talked about teeth and his past career as a dentist, which thank you sir for indulging my nerdiness in that way!). That love was palpable every moment the band was on stage — or in/on top of the crowd as was the case for Bowen and rhythm guitarist Kiernan who both spent considerable time in the audience; Kiernan getting there by the second song of the set and diving back several more times. The audience returned the love by shouting along to every song and holding up Bowen and Kiernan (and every other of the dozens of crowd surfers), everyone, band member and audience member alike, converging to bring the room to a fever pitch.
IDLES at Terminal 5
The set absolutely was a nod to the fans, and appreciation for the fans was something Talbot mentioned several times throughout the night, thanking everyone for being there with them and allowing them to be vulnerable on stage. He also said again (I’ve heard him say this at past shows) that the band could not do what it does or be in the place they are without the fans holding them up. It was obvious they put together this set as a thank you for that.
They ripped through many crowd favorites from the first two albums, Brutalism and Joy As An Act of Resistance, highlights being “Mother,” “Never Fight A Man With A Perm,” “1049 Gotho,” “Danny Nedelko,” and “I’m Scum” which also saw them inviting a fan up to sing lead on (said fan nailed every single word of it too). They hit a healthy dose of songs from Ultra Mono as well and included their brand new single from their upcoming fourth album, Crawler, the soul inspired “The Beachland Ballroom,” as well as an as-of-yet unreleased new song “Car Crash,” which had a heavy hip hop vibe to it. I loved the flow of what they played and my only real complaint is that I’d have loved to have heard another ten songs at least, but alas venue curfews and a finite energy level of a live band are real, so maybe next time I’ll get to hear some of what I was hoping for that didn’t get played.
IDLES at Terminal 5
This show was everything I had thought about when we were in the worst of the throws of the Covid lockdowns and couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t see live music like this, and didn’t know if or when we’d be back to doing things like this. The visceral energy of a band firing on all cylinders and a crowd raging for them is something that can’t be replicated by watching videos (though yes, that is at least somewhat of a nice substitute when you’re not able to actually be there). The drive for me too as a photographer running and diving to get the shots I want, there’s no other feeling like being fully “in it,” with a band; it’s everything I love and want from life. There really are very few live bands I love photographing as much as IDLES because they make me work for those shots; I love every single moment of it, every instant I am “in it.” Because that’s the only way to experience an IDLES show really, to be “in it,” fully immersed in things from start to finish. I got all of that and more at this show, and left a sweaty happy mess, ready to do it all over again the next night.
Scroll down to see pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)