Still brutal, and surprisingly funky
It feels strange to stand in line outside a venue in Shoreditch on a Tuesday night. It’s a bit old-school, to be honest. These days, this is where you’re more likely to run into a banker than a hipster, and the £7.20 pints and charcuterie boards are a far cry from the days of blokes with Nathan Barley haircuts and people in the know (who work at VICE). But there’s a strange twang of nostalgia in being at a “secret” gig in E1. It’s like we’re back where we started.
The reason we’re here, braving the cars and the chill, is that IDLES are about to play a pop-up show at Village Underground. They’re billed under the name TANGK, incidentally also the name of the band’s upcoming album dropping next year, but what ‘TANGK’ is meant to sound like is a bit of a mystery. All that exists going into the gig is a 15-second clip on YouTube (the first single, ‘Dancer’, actually just dropped today) and the band’s vision statement for the album that Joe Talbot has written for The Big Issue. He describes it as a call for empathy: “I was taken aback by the phrase freudenfreude – the very opposite of schadenfreude: Feeling joy from others’ joy, what a beautiful notion! A notion that could be the building blocks of something fueled by empathy and love… a just and joyful FUTURE!!”
We get a taste as soon as the band kicks off. Opener and new song ‘Gratitude’ unveils a weirdly funky side of IDLES that we haven’t really seen until now. That said, it’s just as heavy and brutalist as the band has ever been; the guitar stabs still land like blocks of granite dropped from the air. But adding a driving bassline gives it a momentum that the band’s songs occasionally lack. As a quick check-in on where the band is at, it’s refreshing but brief, and as soon as it ends the band launch straight into ‘Car Crash’ without pausing for breath. “I’m the sort of person who hates new music,” Talbot jokingly admits after the one-two punch ends. “I only really like hearing the old stuff. But when we’re playing live, I really like playing the new stuff; what can you do?”
It’s a brief glimpse of the sound of things to come. IDLES dive back into the back catalogue and reel off a set of tried and tested bangers. It’s crazy to think that it was 2017 when we first witnessed the band deliver a set of sweaty, slightly sloppy punk down at the MOTH club – the band performing now is almost unrecognisable. Playing with a level of control and regimented tightness, IDLES seem both slicker and harder-hitting. A highlight comes early on, with a furious rendition of ‘Mother’. Delivered by Talbot patrolling the stage like a security guard and pointing out crowd members like a headteacher, he whips his audience into a fury. As more people rush to the front of the stage, it becomes harder to tease out who is meant to be singing this thing, Talbot or the sea of people screaming the lyrics back in his face.
This sense of community and togetherness is something that IDLES have never really lost. Since the early days, the band have sought to create a sense of mutual catharsis at their shows, a place where people can come together and vent their frustration and feed off each other’s positivity. Sometimes, I’ll admit, the slightly forced fun of it all turns me off, but I can’t deny that it comes from a place of empathy that we could all do with being less snooty about. At one point tonight, Talbot tells the crowd to take a knee and join him in a chant of “fuck the king”. At first, I crouch down sheepishly, but soon enough I’m chanting with everyone else. It’s hard not to get swept up when everyone is so enthusiastic.
They save the real rabble-rousers for the end. A final three-song set kicks off with new song ‘Dancer’ (which features LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Nancy Whang, although sadly not here tonight), which rewards us with the sight of Talbot pirouetting around the stage, after which the band launch into ‘Danny Nedeleko’, and the crowd goes nuts. Coming up for air right before the last song, Talbot tells us what it’s all about. “There’s only two things I really love in this life: my kid and you lot,” he says between gulps of air. “You’re the reason why I do what I do; you’re the reason why we keep on going.”
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