Support from METZ and Giant Swan
I’ve been a fan of Idles since hearing “Well Done” on Radio 6 Music back in 2017. I first saw them at Colchester Arts Centre, a old church converted to a music venue with about 300 people in the audience. This was just before their debut LP “Brutalism” was released and they more or less played the LP in its entirety before leaping off the stage and rushing over to staff the Merch Stall! I bought the LP that night (from Mark Bowen, their guitarist) and I was completely blown away by its honesty and intensity. I’ve been hooked on them ever since and started going to see them live as and when I could.
As time went on, the venues increased in size. London’s “Heaven” was next and then “The Forum” at Kentish Town, Manchester’s “Ritz”, Sheffield’s “Leadmill” and Dublin’s “Iveagh Gardens” to name just a few. Slowly but surely the venues got bigger and the fan base grew. So it came as no real surprise to me when they announced this monster of a show, 10,000 capacity at Ally Pally! However, what did surprise me was how quickly the show sold out. All tickets were snapped up like hot cakes.
Idles fans are a great bunch of friendly, caring and compassionate people. I started to notice people at a Rough Trade East gig wearing “AF Gang” badges and wondered what it was all about. I was told “Apparently, it’s a kind of fan club and they’ve got a Facebook page, you should should join up” … so I did.
It’s great, lots of like minded, beautiful, generous, caring people. It’s a safe place, where people listen and help others. I used to go to a lot of gigs on my own, not these days. If I see the “AF Gang” badge, then I know there will be a friendly person wearing it. As a result, I have a new family of friends now. These people are wonderful and although we all love IDLES, we also share a interest in many other bands as well.
But what does AF Gang actually mean? You’d best ask someone when you see them wearing the badge!
Anyway, this brings me on nicely to Simon White, a fellow ‘AF Gang’ er who very kindly gave me some tickets to see Cud at the Lexington (that’s another story). I met up with Simon in the Starting Gate pub prior to the Ally Pally show and we had a good chat and a few beers before heading off up the hill to Ally Pally. I asked Simon if he would write a review of the gig and he kindly agreed to. So here’s Simon’s account of the night …
Gig review by Simon White
This was a symbolic gig for several reasons, in a venue that also held significance for the band. IDLES had played Ally Pally years before, supporting The Maccabees at their farewell gig in the summer of 2017. The likes of The Maccabees and Radio 6 DJ Steve Lamaq helped IDLES on their long journey to success, putting them in front of massive audiences both on stage and on air. That gig was a chance to show their largest yet non-festival audience just what they could do.
The Maccabees were also heroes of IDLES, and members of the bands had become good friends. The gig coming so close after the passing away of Joe Talbot’s mother added to the emotion and built the significance of this concert further. It was probably also seen by the band as an opportunity to pay back the Maccabees in giving their crowd a brilliant performance. They did just that, and gained some more fans in the process.
Don’t get me wrong, success wasn’t handed to them on a plate. IDLES had already put in years of hard work themselves. Their online community AF Gang often coin the saying (screamed by Talbot in the dying moments of the song Rottweiler) “Keep Fucking Going” in encouragement to each other when discussing anything from depression, to work, to relationships. This certainly sums up perfectly what IDLES have done throughout their 10+ year existence, and definitely in their almost non-stop touring for their Mercury Prize nominated album Joy As An Act of Resistance (Joy, for short). They got here because they deserved it, because they kept going, and because of their obvious talent and carrying a positive message in negative times. The likes of Lamaq and The Maccabees simply recognised that and helped them speed up their inevitable journey to success.
So, IDLES rode back in to London after a relentless touring schedule to boldly, passionately headline their biggest gig yet, with a great weight of expectation on their shoulders. They deserved this moment, and they delivered.
I was expecting this to be in the top ten of gigs I have ever been to, as IDLES simply just do amazing gigs. But, even with a great gig in terms of music and performance, when it is in such a big venue, that can change things. Some bands are suited to big venues. The Chemical Brothers’ September 2018 performance in the same venue springs to mind, but IDLES are all about intimacy and closeness, so unless you’re in the front row, this massive hall didn’t seem to suit them as much.
Venue size isn’t just an issue for IDLES; I have seen great gigs at Ally Pally from several artists such as Pixies, The Streets, Vampire Weekend and others, but they didn’t have the massive visual display and light show looming over them to add to the experience. Had all those non-Chemicals gigs I’d seen there been in less gargantuan venues, they could have been as good. A few years back a fantastic three hour set from The Cure at Wembley Arena left me feeling exactly the same way.
When saying IDLES are about intimacy and closeness, there’s more to it than cramped venues where elbows and beers collide. It’s the relationship between the band and the crowd, brought about not only by the meaning of the songs, which the crowd know backwards, but the passionate and positive dialogue Joe Talbot has with them, and the love generated by the rest of the band, especially guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan who like to clamber into the crowd, usually on several occasions. These moments are a little bit lost when watched on a giant screen because the band are too small in real life, and that’s the experience most of the audience would have had.
It’s strange in a way, because they did achieve a level of closeness at their now infamous Glastonbury performance earlier in the year, and that crowd at Park stage was of course even bigger. But Glastonbury has an amount of freedom to it that would probably disappear if you surrounded the stage and audience with a massive, hollow aircraft hanger (albeit beautiful from outside, as Ally Pally is).
Other simpler things to do with the place got in the way, the limited amount of entry points (4 if I remember correctly, all on the same side) for 10,250 people to get into the main gig hall made it hard to get anywhere at all quickly. Then there is the fact that if you are at the front on the left and go out for a pee, you cannot get back in through the same doors, and have to re-enter halfway along the length of the venue, spending the next 5 minutes squeezing your way back through to try and find your friends. The security on the door don’t tell you this on the way out, only when you try to get back in. This whole procedure is not exactly great for anyone with anxiety or other social issues – a group of people IDLES attract in their droves through their music but also their passionate and quite honestly, lovely fanbase.
My last niggle about the venue is that more important things get in the way, too, like the echoey sound you can’t help but get in such a big place. Logistics and acoustics aside, though, it was still a brilliant performance and a great night.
In a ballsy decision, they chose to start with a new song, War, instead of their usual first song, Joy’s opener, Colossus. In a way this stamped a mark on the gig as not the end of one chapter for the band, but the start of another, or at least a bridge between the two. A thumping, aggressive opener burst Talbot into his signature foot-stamp with arms aloft like Harley Davidson handlebars.
But it was the next song, the superbly titled Never Fight a Man with a Perm that suddenly saw the band and the crowd come fully and simultaneously alive and move things up a notch. As it is on the album and in many gigs before, it was followed by I’m Scum. These two songs just seem to go together so well, and this pairing of them allowed the excitement to build. Add to that the increasing passion from both band and crowd in these two songs, and the feeling in the room was that this was going to be a good night.
A good example of how Joe Talbot can engage a full crowd (no mean feat in this venue), is how, halfway through I’m Scum, he asks the audience to “get low”, squatting down as he says it, “get low, Tory manifesto low”, and the crowd, some reluctant, some obedient, some confused, obligingly squat down, and they then start to sing the words of the second verse, with Talbot smiling on. After the lyric “I’m just wondering where the High Street’s gone, ‘cause I’m Scum”, Joe jumps up, screaming “Yeah”, and the whole room leaps up with him and things go one level crazier that they were before.
It’s difficult to engage a crowd in such a big venue with just music, and IDLES did everything they could to make sure we got the best we could out of it. When you follow what just happened with the passionate, feminist, NHS supporting “Mother”, the wave continues to carry the crowd, well, most of them.
Mother is the first in this gig of four consequential songs from their debut Brutalism. The result was a confirmation of something that I had wondered about when I got into the venue and looked around me. As with any band, a new album picks up new fans, and whilst a lot of the crowd were just as involved with the songs from Brutalism, it seemed about 20-30% were not so bothered and it took a little edge off the gig. These fans might have been a little disappointed that they played as many songs from Brutalism in the first dozen as they had from Joy, but the rest of us were delighted.
These songs were also joined by the fantastic Queens, from the Meat EP, drawing a similar level of confusion from some, but delight from most. The insertion of Brutalism’s apologetic and melancholic Slow Savage into proceedings displayed pure, raw emotion from Talbot, and indeed many of the audience. It’s a poignant song, that touches on addiction’s effect on relationships, but the drop in tempo also served as an opportunity for several to nip to the bar or toilet.
IDLES “don’t do encores”, but there was an intermission after a crazy ten minutes of Danny Nedelko and Rottweiler, in which Dylan Thomas’ reading of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” was played, whilst some listened and those who didn’t do so earlier went to refill their pints/empty their bladders.
The next section of the gig – definitely not an encore (wink, wink) – started with their usual opener, the brilliant Colossus, which builds and builds until it take as a breath before exploding, with the middle front half of Ally Pally bursting into probably one of the largest indoor mosh pits ever witnessed.
IDLES mosh pits are typically crazy, a little bit bruisy, but generally considerate, non-sexist, non-violent and cooperative places. Unfortunately, from my own experience and that of others, it cannot be said for this occasion. There was far more testosterone and unnecessary aggression, and it ruined some people’s evenings. If these are new or old IDLES fans, I am not sure they will be welcomed by the band or the AF Gang with open arms. It’s disappointing, as Glastonbury attracted many new fans, and the mosh pits at those gigs looked crazy as ever there, but there was very little word of aggression or abusive behaviour.
“Grounds” was the next song, which will feature on the yet to be named third album. It’s a great song, typical IDLES, allowing Joe to stamp and scream “do you hear the thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers”. Not an insignificant tune at that time, not just due to the size of the gig, but the fact that we were just around the corner from another general election, a subject Joe would unite the crowd on.
Towards the end of the set was their ode to depression, 1049 Gotho, inspired by a friend of Joe Talbot’s confiding in him about his problems. It is a great, fast paced song with a thumping bassline , and lyrics you could clearly see, had visible meaning and connection with the audience, as do Samaritans and Television, which followed it, each of those songs respectively calling out toxic masculinity and influencer-lead culture. The lyrics of these tunes were belted out by Talbot and echoed by the crowd word-for-word, not through sheepish fandom as much as passionate belief. These three songs in succession were another massive highpoint.
They finished with their third new song of the night, the appropriately named Danke, joined onstage by support act friends Metz and Giant Swan. It was nice to see them enjoying themselves, recognising their friends in the support acts, and good for us to hear another new tune, but as a punter, this being the last song was a little disappointing. There is nothing better than leaving a gig on a massive high, which another, better-known track would have done. Had The IDLES Chant, Great, Mercedes Marxist or Well Done had an outing, it would have taken what was a great gig to even better places.
But they were moving forwards, and finishing with a new song would mark it as a new beginning rather as well as a celebration of the past, as alluded to by Joe Talbot earlier in the gig when he said “we’re not playing Well Done, if you wanted that you should’ve seen us two years ago!”.
Afterwards started the twenty-five-minute squeeze to just get out of the building. I’m glad IDLES played there, it was a landmark gig in a venue close to their hearts. But hopefully the next London appearance will be the first of several nights in Brixton Academy rather than a giant, somewhat soulless cavern. A smaller venue size might also return the composition of the crowd to a more fully involved audience than we saw on this night.
Oh, and one more thing, they’re all great at what they do, but Jon Beavis is one of the most talented and exciting drummers of this century. I can’t wait to see him and the boys on tour again soon.
Thanks, and as the AF Gang say, keep fucking going. x
Setlist (2 sets)
- Never Fight a Man with a Perm
- I’m Scum
- Faith in the City
- Divide and Conquer
- Heel / Heal
- Gram Rock
- Slow Savage
- Danny Nedelko
- Love Song
- 1049 Gotho