It’s amazing that a band could have you strolling through a gallery of open-minded art and submerged in a whirlpool of sharp bones and tangled limbs, all in the same night. Bristol’s IDLES are unlike any other punks, and their tour stop in Brooklyn was both vicious and dripping with love. Six blocks away from Music Hall of Williamsburg, the intimate venue they would all but demolish with good energy, the Joy Exhibition that was first exclusive to London made its second appearance in New York’s Okay Space on Friday, continuing right until doors opened for their Saturday night show. The mixed-media artwork conveys themes from their much-loved new record, Joy as an Act of Resistance – from subverting masculine ideals (as in “Samaritans”) to ignoring how the world perceives you (as in “I’m Scum”). Right after we stopped by to see it, we ran into the full band outside the venue, and they took time to shake hands with many excited fans, bassist Adam Devonshire even working the merch table after their sound check (which included “Danny Nedelko” and an already-fiery “Samaritans”).
It was fun seeing Bambara open for them as they did back in March, particularly since IDLES frontman Joe Talbot has called them his favorite band, as he repeated twice on Saturday night. Their suspenseful noise rock prompted early jumping in the packed room, and frontman Reid Bateh ignited a feeling of recklessness as he sang. After a spilled beer slickened the stage where he was thrashing and rolling, their handwritten setlist disintegrated under his beer-soaked boots and back. His brother, drummer Blaze Bateh, fueled the fury with his hard rhythms, and an extra drumstick found a home grinding on guitar strings. Kicking it off with “Dark Circles,” the first song on Bambara’s new record, this year’s Shadow on Everything, the Brooklyn-based band played a 13-song set that got heavier by the minute and satiated the hungry crowd. “We’ve got IDLES coming up next, and it’s gonna be fucking amazing,” Reid Bateh said, later adding (before Bambara’s last song, “Monument”), “It’s going to be the best show you’ve seen in a fucking long time. They’re unbelievable, and we feel honored to be on this tour with them.”
IDLES were greeted with screams and soon had the full venue on an adrenaline high, from the depths of the mosh pit to the balconies above. We can tell you firsthand what it felt like front-and-center under the mist of the band’s sweat, in the hazardous spot where the crowd-surfers dive and the full weight of the room slams your body against the stage. In the wake of their addictive riffs, forward-thinking lyrics, and scorching sound, IDLES’ Brooklyn show became one of the roughest and wildest ones we’ve witnessed to date. If you can imagine struggling and sputtering beneath a riptide, catching just glimpses of the world above – in an ocean of fists, elbows, knees, sneakers, and skulls – that was exactly the sensation. Every time you came up for air, though, the band’s grin-inducing rage was there to reassure you, and all members locked eyes with everyone in their sight. There was something else in their expressions too; a flicker of awe, perhaps at the many fans shouting every word from the new record, the sheer volume like a tidal wave smacking MHOW’s small stage. Adding to the intensity, their 17-song set had all the fast, fierce songs their fans were craving, including the elusive “Gram Rock,” which setlist analysts will note is not always a constant at their shows – and was an absolute rager on Saturday.
As their memorable performance took shape, Adam Devonshire’s heavy bass lines were essential – as were his “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”s during the insane freak-out in album/show opener “Colossus” – and he was locked in tightly with the savage rhythms of drummer Jon Beavis. It’s hard to describe the contagious bliss of guitarist Mark ‘Bobo’ Bowen, whose dancing ranges from professional ballet dancer to cool drunken uncle in a way that’s genuinely inspiring. He and guitarist Lee Kiernan were dishing out some gnarly stuff and shredding close to frontman Joe Talbot, sometimes balanced against him at crazy angles – and sometimes strumming each other’s guitars, as they did on “Well Done.” Notably, Talbot’s vocal performance was extra aggressive and punctuated with heartfelt moments, like when he referenced the Statue of Liberty’s New Colossus sonnet, reminding us that New York “welcomed the tired, the poor, and the huddled. What a fucking thing, huh? I fucking love immigrants,” Talbot said, triggering big cheers from MHOW. “I want to sing about how much I love immigrants with you tonight,” he said, right before everyone lost their minds shouting/spelling along to “Danny Nedelko.”
Pulling fans on stage, including two young kids who got to try out their guitars, the guys from IDLES smiled as it turned into chaos and other fans crawled up to join the party. After warmly acknowledging Partisan Records and thanking Bambara for being his favorite band, Talbot added, “…I want to thank my father for being a wonderful human. And I want to thank you fuckers…I want to thank every single one of you for making us feel so welcome. Thank you. This song is about the disgusting, racist, right-wing press,” he said without pause, introducing their ferocious last song, album closer “Rottweiler.” It was a surreal thing seeing that many people happily slam into each other, and as it was happening, it already felt like footage they might show to a music history class in a decade or so. With mystery-grime and shoe prints visible on fans’ clothes as they departed, their faces made it clear that the memory of the show – and the thrill of seeing this band at this moment in history – made the scrapes and bruises well worth it.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley