When IDLES comes to town, it’s always an explosive event and it’s always a highly emotional experience for me. They are one of my favorite bands and easily one of the ones that has meant the very most to me over the last ten years—I have laughed, I have raged, and yes, I have cried when listening to their music or seeing them play live. And even having seen them four times before, it’s always something I anticipate with immense excitement and I go in like it’s my first time every time. They’re a band that even while I’m shooting, I’m yelling along to as I go; it’s just too hard not to in the moment, camera in hand or not.
King’s Theater was the biggest venue I’ve seen them play yet and at first I wondered what the night would even look like. Seeing them at Brooklyn Steel or Terminal 5 is one thing, but King’s Theater is a resplendent, opulent setting and not the first thing I think of when I think of a band like IDLES. So exactly how would it go with these five brash blokes from the UK with their wildly intense show and bold (and true) leftist opinions, along with the rowdy crowds that accompany them, taking over the venue?
Joe Talbot of IDLES
The answer, as it turns out, was swimmingly. While King’s itself may be elegant, the same could never be said of IDLES and their fans. We are not elegant people and we make no apologies for it. But that didn’t matter in the slightest because it was a night full of joy and rage, beauty and pain, inspiration and emotion all rolled into one. Because scumbags unite and we have to stick together, be it inside of fancy venues or out in the streets. (I sadly passed on the “scumbags unite” jacket at the merch stand but it was very tempting indeed.) They were supported by opening act Injury Reserve, a glitchy experimental dark wave hip hop group that set a nice tone for the evening and eased the crowd into the chaos that was to come.
Musically speaking, and from a performance perspective, IDLES is not a band that has never held back in the slightest and are hands down one of the best live bands you will ever see, regardless of genre. As time has gone on they have only honed their craft more and more, now reaching a level of live prowess that I can only imagine would match the height of 1970s arena rock bands, they are just that good and just that massive of a presence. Indeed, they filled every single inch and atom of space in the cavernous reaches of King’s, the air practically crackling with electricity.
They played a set that spanned their four albums and packed in plenty of fan favorites like “I’m Scum,” “1049 Gotho,” “Mother,” and “Danny Nedelko” along with newer songs like “Car Crash” and “Crawl!” and even a few surprises in the mix, namely “Wizz,” the 30 second chaotic frenzy of a hardcore song that I was not expecting to hear. Not one person stayed still inside that venue from the instant they took the stage to the ominous thunder of “Colossus,” until the final chaos of “Rottweiler” had reached the ceiling far above the audiences’ head.
This show also saw the return of guitarist Mark Bowen to the fold who had missed the early leg of the tour on paternity leave. Dressed in a flowery frock special for the occasion and fiery and bombastic as ever, it was as if he hadn’t missed a beat being off the road. His trademark crowd surfing karaoke session was a huge hit with the fans and a highlight of the show, this time regaling the crowd with the Peaches & Herb’s classic “Reunited,” among snippets of other popular songs. Singer Joe Talbot and the band have always been open with expressing their immense gratitude to the fans and venue workers (as a venue worker myself, thanks for that kind sirs) and he made sure to thank everyone for coming more than once, saying “you saved my life so thank you very much” before sending “The Wheel” out to “my mother and yours.”
We live in very challenging and infinitely complicated times, “shit is always fucked up,” doesn’t even begin to cover it and sometimes it truly feels like there is absolutely nothing left to hold on to. But then I put on an IDLES album, or I go see them live, and I am instantly reminded that the truest act of resistance we have is joy. Pure and unbridled unapologetic joy, no matter how sweaty or “ugly” it might get and no matter who or what is trying to stomp the life out of us.
As Talbot said at one point in the show “you may well be lonely but you are never alone,” and one can really feel that on a deep level through their music, particularly when you see them perform it in person. I thanked them a year ago at the conclusion of my coverage of their double header at Terminal 5 (see night one and night two) for being a healing salve to my heart and I thank them again now, for continuing to be that guiding light and helping hand even when it seems there isn’t anything else I can grasp hold of. I and all of their fans owe them a debt of gratitude not only for the great tunes but for giving us a glimmer of hope in hard times.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot videos and pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Setlist: Colossus, Car Crash, Mr. Motivator, Grounds, Mother, Divide and Conquer, The Beachland Ballroom, Never Fight A Man With A Perm, Crawl!, 1049 Gotho, The Wheel, Television, A Hymn, War, Wizz, I’m Scum, Danny Nedelko, Rottweiler