By guest author Aviv Hart
Attempting to categorize British rock band IDLES into a genre is an exercise in semantics. Punk rock? Post-punk? No-wave? Noise rock? Take your pick, it doesn’t really matter. While all of these descriptions fit in some way, they all fail to wholly capture the uniquely violent sound IDLES has crafted over the past 5 years. IDLES’ loud, political, dissonant rock music is both punishing and uplifting, lamenting the fact that this world of ours has become a man-made horror beyond our comprehension, while celebrating the fact that we’re not dead just quite yet.
IDLES’ most recent record, 2021’s Crawler, is by far their most ambitious. While the aggressive straightforwardness that made the band famous still serves as the bedrock of their sound, Crawler sees them expanding upon it with a healthy dose of industrial and new-wave influence. Speaking of departures from the traditional, this is also their first album produced by hip-hop producer Kenny Beats, making his first public foray into rock music. While this may seem surprising on its face, the combative and confrontational tone of his work with rappers like Rico Nasty, JPEGMAFIA, and Freddie Gibbs is actually very in-line with IDLES’ emotional mission statement. The teeth-grinding rage that made the band the next big thing in hard rock in 2017 is still there, it’s just been ironed out for the first time, proving that the tension before the bomb goes off can be just as crushing as the explosion itself.
Special mention must be given to opening act Taipei Houston, who were absolutely electric. My expectations were tempered, given their status as “opening band I had never heard of,” but those expectations were shattered, stomped on, and grinded into dust. The bass and drums two-piece brought a frenetic energy to a hungry crowd, with the bassist relentlessly riffing at the very top of the fretboard to simulate a guitar, and the drummer showcasing a mix of raw energy and technical skill reminiscent of Zach Hill (to understand why this is such a compliment, watch any video of Hill’s band Death Grips performing live). They mentioned that they were playing Lollapalooza as well, which seemed odd since they had only released one song to this point. This made a lot more sense after a quick Google, as I found out both members of the band are sons of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. While I would love to knock the silver-spoon rock and roll rich kids (they did seem like an odd opener for IDLES, given the headliner’s publicly stated proletarian politics), when you’re good you’re good, and they were really, REALLY good. Nepotism works out sometimes, I suppose.
As soon as IDLES took the stage the floor distribution became about 75% mosh pit and 25% “other,” each song had a median of two crowd surfers (band members included), and any beverage that one may be holding suddenly belonged to the t-shirts of those next to them, as the crowd pushed and pulled itself in every direction. It was, quite frankly, a delight to partake in an old-fashioned push pit, completely devoid of jock hardcore kids doing their weird punch-and-kick dances. Even some old heads got in on the action, as multiple people who couldn’t be under 40 gleefully pushed people who (age-wise) could be their children into each other.
The set began with “Colossus,” the opening track from their critical darling sophomore record Joy as an Act of Resistance, and the entire crowd immediately pushed forward as if a wind tunnel had suddenly emerged at the back of the venue. This was taken straight into “Car Crash,” one of the most intense and slowly pummeling tracks off of Crawler that sounds like, well, its title (The song’s desperate, life or death energy comes as no surprise, as it is based on a real life car accident lead singer Joe Talbot was involved in.) This was immediately followed by the spitefully sarcastic “Mr. Motivator,” treating the audience to an opening three song run of some of the band’s most impactful and beloved tracks. Other highlights included the anthemic punk hit “Never Fight A Man With A Perm,” defiantly angry Crawler cut “Crawl,” and the working class war cry “Mother,” in which the audience emphatically repeated the verse’s lyrics so loudly even Talbot’s one-of-a-kind gravel-wracked snarl got lost among the cacophony of voices (“My mother worked 17 hours 7 days a week! The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich!”).
Joe Talbot perfectly encapsulates an identity that many too-cool rock singers try and fail to capture; the everyman rockstar. Talbot presents himself with no pomp whatsoever, appearing more as a guy you would see sitting at the end of the bar than the singer of an internationally recognized rock band. This seems very much by design (or rather, by lack of design), as Talbot (and the rest of the band) seems genuinely unconcerned with both ego and performative aloofness. That being said, as soon as he started recklessly spinning the microphone around by its chord and spitting high into the air, his status as one of the most compelling front men in music was evidently clear. His bona fide rockstar credentials (a phrase I’m sure he would absolutely hate) were on particularly full display near the end of the set, as he instructed the entire sold-out Metro crowd to crouch down, and led us in an emphatic chant of “Fuck the queen.”
IDLES‘ set ended with “Rottweiler,” the album closer from Joy as an Act of Resistance, a perfect choice to send the crowd home happy. As I sat on the Addison red line platform after the show, completely drenched in sweat, all that was necessary was a simple head nod between me and fellow concert-goers to acknowledge the cathartically aggressive and stunningly powerful 90-minute performance we had just witnessed.
This review was written by guest author Aviv Hart. Aviv Hart is a Chicago music and culture writer, you can find his other work online at dxcegame.com and in print in the DXCEGAME magazine.