This live stream performance from Abbey Road studios consisted of three sets; two on Saturday night at 9pm and 11:45pm (BST) and a third on Sunday at 12pm.
There’s a palpable sense of anticipation as the minutes count down, amplified by the excited comments in the live chat column. At just after nine, the screen reveals an aerial shot of the band in the iconic Abbey Road studio, some of them casually dressed, others less so. Guitarist Mark Bowen gets some stick from the fans in the comments for his orangey-brown suit of the “wondered what became of me nan’s sofa” variety.
They kick things off with ‘Heel/Heal’ from their first album, a raucous number fuelled by machine-gun snare. There are multiple cameras on hand to capture the action, but it’s a strange sensation when the song finishes and there’s no audience applause. Just the buzzing of amps. There’s a marked contrast between the band playing and the interludes in-between. There’s some casual banter, but not done in a straight-up gig style to a perceived audience, it’s more like watching a practice session.
Three songs in and singer Joe Talbot calls a halt to ‘Stendhal Syndrome’, demanding they restart and play it right this time, which further adds to the rehearsal room ambience. There’s another false start on the next track – new song ‘Kill Them With Kindness’. Is it nerves or simply the sheer strangeness of the set-up? Maybe with no crowd to feed off it’s a whole other ball game.
Each set features a cover and the first one out is ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ by The Ramones. The Idles version is a brooding downtempo affair, delighting the fans in the comments thread.
The band start to hit their stride, Talbot swaggering dementedly around in Hawaiian shirt and wife-beater vest, and there are some killer dance moves from the two guitarists. Some adrenalin-fuelled performances ensue – ‘1049 Gotho’ and ‘Television’, and set closer ‘Rottweiler’ mutates into some savage jamming, a drum solo and even a “Who-style” trashed guitar. So it’s fair to say that any first-night nerves have been vanquished at this stage.
A couple of hours pass (more slowly than the first set seemed to), and it seems most people are in for the whole shebang rather than just one set. It would be quite masochistic to do otherwise now that the blood’s pumping.
The scene returns; a change of clothes (Bowen has ditched the suit – maybe he saw the comments thread!) and the band seem more into it. As a viewer it feels more natural to me too, I’m warming to the format. Doing three shows was a smart move. It’s a bit like one of those films where people wake up to find themselves locked in somewhere, and start going gradually nuts. Being an hour ahead where I am, it’s almost one in the morning, the perfect time for more action, though people around the world are watching this at all kinds of strange hours.
Idles are visibly more relaxed and therefore more savage, they seem to have transcended the oddness of the situation, like reality TV where people forget the cameras are there. Joe Talbot’s lyrics, rants and body language – (“The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich” – ‘Mother’), do evoke Sleaford Mods it has to be said. The press have spoken about (and probably stoked) a feud between the two bands – some class-credentials beef or other, but that’s just a sideshow that does neither band any favours. The Sleaford Mods blew the doors open for bands to express themselves with a new honesty, and Idles certainly don’t skirt around deep issues of death, inequality and social conscience.
In this second set, the high-jinks crank up a notch. It could be cabin fever but guitarist Lee Kiernan is literally climbing the walls, ending up in the rafters somewhere, as one song descends into improvised show tunes from ‘Top Gun’, followed by Lucy (or Lee) in the Sky, and then the bloody Cranberries. For their cover song they do the Strokes number, ‘Reptilia’, again pleasantly surprising their giddy fanbase. New song, ‘Model Village’ ignites despite some technical problems (“In case you’re wondering, the model village is England!”), this is addictive viewing. I’m starting to want them to be imprisoned in there forever, they could be woken up every few hours and made to perform. Things terminate with ‘Well Done’ with its oblique references to Mary Berry and Trevor Nelson. Despite each set being eleven songs in length, it passes all too quickly again, so there’s naught to do but go to beddie-byes and await Sunday’s set.
Another Hawaiian shirt, and more banging tunes. There’s some debate in the chat that this set was recorded the night before in-between the first two, based on the clothes, broken guitars reconstituted, a throwaway comment. Minds are starting to run away with themselves, it’s the overdose of heavy guitar riffs. ‘A Hymn’ is full of understated menace, followed by a brutal and muscular ‘Divide and Conquer’. But what will today’s cover be? Well, look where we are. There are some quips about ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Frozen 3’ being recorded here , but it can only be The Fab Four, and a boisterous, ragged version of ‘Helter Skelter’ spills out (with a bit of Placebo on the side).
So, Idles delivered a solid event, possibly meant to slake the fans’ thirst for a live show, but only fanning the flames of desire to see them again in the flesh at the first opportunity. We will surely see more of this kind of thing in the near future, enjoy it we did and massive respect to Idles for pulling it off with such panache, but I hope it’s a stop-gap solution for live music rather than the shape of things to come.