LIVE: IDLES / LICE @ Heaven, London

By Jamie MacMillan

“Well this is a beautiful sight my friends” sighed IDLES front man Joe Talbot at one point, fondly beating his chest as 1,600 true believers roared their admiration back at him. ‘All Is Love’ is the IDLES mantra, and that never rang truer than this evening. A DIY band in the truest sense of the word, they have quickly transformed from one of the best-kept secrets into one of the most important bands of this or any other generation. As the Unity Tour comes to an end with the promise of a follow-up to the magnificent ‘Brutalism’ looming on the horizon, it was time to catch breath and see just how far this band of brothers have come.

On a baking hot day in the capital, Heaven feels hotter than hell. Support comes from LICE, another Bristol band who may have emerged from the same gene pool but have clearly moved in a different art-punk direction. Recent EP ‘It All Worked Out Great’ is the centre point of their set, with the surf rock-meets-post punk thrills of ‘Stammering Bill’ (complete with an explosive guitar riff straight from the soundtrack to classic cult movie Bubba Ho-Tep) generating the first mosh pit of the night. With the stage bathed in blinding red light, it’s a visually arresting start to the night. Though their songs may perhaps be less immediate to newcomers than the main act, LICE are just as infectious as their name suggests and quickly win over a crowd with a fierce and raucous set.

As tradition dictates, Joe Talbot arrives on stage before the rest of IDLES. Prowling repeatedly across the stage sizing the room up, it’s the movement of a boxer intent not just on psyching himself up but the entire venue. Unseen, a signal arrives that welcomes the rest of the band to join him and the room erupts. Starting with ‘Heel / Heal’, blinding lights silhouette the band momentarily in a visceral, savage opening that quickens the heart as much as it punches the gut. Like a seismic event, ‘The IDLES Chant’ and ‘Date Night’ shake the entire venue, the crowd organically moving and rushing like a fierce storm tide. By now, guitarists Lee Kiernan and Mark ‘Bobo’ Bowen have already broken down any symbolic barrier between crowd and band, immersing themselves into the thick of the action. Immediately, and for the entirety of the show, it is hard to know where to look as each member of the group are constantly moving and feeding off of each other, truly a band of equal parts culminating in an unstoppable force.

To say that IDLES are a political band is to over-simplify things, just as it is to say that they are just an angry band playing angry music. There is a ice-cold fury aimed at broken systems certainly, with tributes and songs dedicated to the NHS and immigration, but this rage is controlled and channelled into positivity. An IDLES show is a safe place, where crowdsurfing crashes and tumbles are dealt with by dozens of arms picking the person back up without anger. Where water is passed back from the front rather than guzzled by the first person to touch it, and where male hands are used as protective shields in circle pits rather than as offensive tools grabbing and groping. Indeed, there is an equality of gender in the crowd that is not always apparent at shows like this. Talbot touches on this too, remarking that the audience “makes this a safe place for me”. Even the security guards at the front are laughing and backslapping crowd surfers as they are forced into safe landings in the pit. It is a show that screams that though the world may be going to shit, the people in this room have the power to make it better. 

While this is still ostensibly a ‘Brutalism’ tour, new songs from the as-yet-unnamed second album are dripped in and they all fit perfectly. ‘Samaritans’ is a bruising beast of a track targeting the troubling issue of toxic masculinity (“Man up, sit down, chin up, pipe down…drink up, don’t whine”). It is another huge leap forwards in songwriting with it’s misleadingly simplistic lyrics betraying a painful truth, while fellow future favourite ‘Love Song’ sounds like a swarm of bees on the attack. The old-school punk chorus of ‘Danny Nedelko’ (named after fellow Bristol band Heavy Lungs’ front man) gets a run-out too as does ‘I’m Scum’ – a slithering, angular number. With no sign of the mighty ‘Colossus’ tonight, album number two is feeling massive already. 

But of course, it is the songs from the current album that pack the biggest punch right now – ‘Mother’ will never be anything less than a bruising and raw cathartic experience, while ‘Benzocaine’ (dedicated to the AF Gang fan community, an organic movement that has brought fans together from across the world) results in LICE’s Gareth diving a seemingly impossible distance from the main stage. By the time ‘Exeter’ arrives, both guitarists are deep in the crowd with their place on stage taken by the bands’ manager. It’s the kind of show where it feels perfectly natural for the band to sing a snippet of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ for absolutely no reason with full audience participation. 

As time finally runs out, and the sonic explosion that is perennial set-closer ‘Rottweiler’ is finally thumped into submission by drummer Jon Beavis (seriously, if there is a better rock drummer out there at the moment then they must be something special indeed), it is time to reflect on just how far this band have come already. In a little over twelve months, they have gone from playing in front of twenty people in a Brighton basement to selling out Heaven in the blink of an eye. The beauty of it is that the band and the atmosphere hasn’t changed in anything other than positive ways. They still hit you hard in the heart and stomach, but they still make you feel good while they do it. All IS Love.

Jamie MacMillan