“We hope that we give you an arena to feel safe and enjoy yourselves in the way that you see fit. Thank you very much for making us feel safe to be ourselves up here.” Joe Talbot always finds a way to make IDLES’ wild shows feel welcoming and intimate, as he did many times when they played Brooklyn Steel, in a performance that was peppered with meaningful mini-speeches between songs. The band’s core messages of love, unity, and acceptance are thoroughly woven into their work – particularly their last record, Joy as an Act of Resistance – whether they’re warmly affirming that immigrants are our blood brothers, or more bluntly, confessing their urge to “put homophobes in coffins.” But these aren’t simply themes in their music; their love runs deeper than that. Just like the other times we’ve gotten to see IDLES, we noticed that nothing had changed: the band was hanging outside of the venue before their sold-out show, chatting with fans and giving autographs, and even still manning their own merch counter. That’s almost unbelievable, given how big of a deal they are now, and it only adds to our adoration for these down-to-earth heroes.
You know it’s a sick lineup when some fans are as excited for the openers as they are the headliners. Dublin’s Fontaines D.C., who are labelmates with IDLES on Partisan Records, have been a hit with the AF Gang and seemingly most of Ireland lately, so Brooklyn Steel was psyched when Grian Chatten, Conor Deegan III, Carlos O’Connell, Conor Curley and Tom Coll stepped onto the stage and got things going. Communicating primarily with the record’s narrative lyrics, Chatten hardly said a word to the audience when he wasn’t singing – other than a humble “Cheers” – and Fontaines D.C. fired off their expressive songs with little pause at all. Shuffling up the order of songs, they played their just-released record, Dogrel, almost in its entirety (every track except album closer “Dublin City Sky”). Knowing that they boldly recorded Dogrel live in one take, the band’s effortless synergy on stage comes as no surprise. Even if you were trying to save all your strength for IDLES’ inevitable mosh pit, the hard-edged riffs and fast hooks cooked up by the Irish punks demanded a physical response. The Brooklyn audience seemed especially pumped over opener “Chequeless Reckless,” as well as “Too Real” and “Boys in the Better Land,” which got the jumping started early in the evening. In the swell of applause that ensued, Fontaines D.C. thanked Brooklyn quietly and coolly, blowing kisses and handing their paper setlists down to the front-row fans.
IDLES’ Friday-night tour stop in Brooklyn fostered some of the most caring and considerate moshing we’ve ever witnessed. Of course, the nice environment was in part due to Talbot’s warning when things kicked off too violently – “If you’re gonna do that shit, look after each other, or fuck off!” – but also rooted in the wonderful community that has formed around IDLES’ work. These are fans who actively make sure no one’s getting elbowed in the face, and reassure first-timers, including some brave moms in the thick of the pit, who were visiting their kids on Mother’s Day weekend. These are fans who buy water bottles for strangers when the sweat is dripping mid-show and the whole room feels like it’s on fire. Adding to the ecstatic atmosphere, the Bristol badasses played a generous seventeen-song set, stretching out all the highlights and inserting extra freak-outs everywhere. It was like that flawless rage in the last bit of “Colossus” was sneaking into everything they did. Speaking of which, that moment was absolutely insane.
As they tore up the addictive hits from Joy as an Act of Resistance, Brutalism, and “Queens” from debut EP MEAT, trying to watch all the guys in action at once was like trying to track the colored beads inside a kaleidoscope. Jon Beavis was a beast on the drums, keeping the band in sync as they extended solo sections and shook up expectations from studio recordings – not to mention setting the pace of everyone’s ferocious dancing. The rapid-fire bass work of Adam Devonshire snapped right into place, and Lee Kiernan supplied extra layers with rhythm guitar, adding even more depth to their sound. Joe Talbot (who we’ve had the honor of interviewing) delivered beautifully volatile and resonant vocals, pointing and addressing fans individually with gratitude in his eyes. Of course, the visual effects were provided by guitarist Mark “Bobo” Bowen, wearing only a snug pair of American flag pants, who danced all over the stage and dove right in with fans while he shredded. “We’ve been looking after him for eleven years,” Joe said affectionately mid-show. “Bless him; the other day we let him buy his own trousers.”
As expected, everyone in the band contributed passionate vocals – Dev’s “I I I I I!”s on “Date Night” and his “I’m just saying I don’t like you!”s on “Heel/Heal” were viciously good. No matter how loudly he shouted, though, there was a whole population of fans joining him at full volume, which kept making the band smile and throw more energy back. The polite yet wild moshing extended far past the pit and all over Brooklyn Steel’s floor, crowd-surfers rising and gliding on the sea of outstretched hands. IDLES’ fans were very much at ease amid the moshy chaos, perhaps because Talbot was so open and friendly; he shared a number of intimate anecdotes providing background on their hits. “We’ve been told we’re fat, stupid, ugly, and old for our whole career. But what we do is get together and make each other feel special, and make each other feel good,” he said, triggering huge applause. He then explained that the next song, “I’m Scum,” is about exactly that. Being one of the catchiest songs released in the past few years (fight us on it), you can only imagine how quickly their fans burst into action, jumping and singing with uninhibited glee.
Before “Divide and Conquer,” Talbot shared some context that was strongly felt by the U.S. audience. “This is about the best thing the British government ever did for our people. It’s called the NHS – the National Health Service.” And that wasn’t the only important cause on his mind. Later he explained, “This song is a celebration of womanhood,” before they rocked out on “Mother.” “This is dedicated to my wife, who is currently looking after my child at home…she is also a terrifyingly wonderful human being. This is for any mothers in the crowd,” he said, adding with fervor, “I AM A FEMINIST!”
He also shared some words of acceptance that prompted lots of cheering. “I just want to remind you that we want you to feel special. That’s what we fuckin’ do,” Talbot said with a radiant grin. “We’re going with all the clichés of self-love, and we’re fucking off the assholes, and we’re saying, ‘You are fucking awesome, thank you very much. Love yourselves.’ Seriously, fuck ‘em! You’re all amazing in some fucking way.” Announcing another sagacious song from Joy as an Act of Resistance, “Television,” whose lyrics discuss smashing mirrors and feeling free, Talbot added, “This song was written for my first daughter, Agatha, and it’s about loving yourself.”
IDLES seemed truly flattered by the response from Brooklyn Steel, and Talbot got personal with everyone again as the night went on. “I just want to say,” he paused with sincerity, making eye contact all around. “I’ll never forget this shit. Every one of you individually has come and made me feel like…someone. I feel like someone!” Their fans drowned his words in devoted screams. IDLES’ Brooklyn show ended with the incendiary “Rottweiler,” after Talbot revved up the room by explaining its origins. “This song is about how much we despise the racist right-wing press in your country and ours.” Nothing says love like genuine compassion. As the song exploded and unraveled in the amazing way that it does, the sounds of Dev yelling “Unity!” and Bobo screaming their mantra, “Long live the open-minded!” are still echoing in our heads and filling our hearts.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley