8th April | Komedia, Bath
Photos: Rowan Allen
To fill a venue like Bath’s Komedia on a Sunday night is impressive. To fill it in a city that represents the opposite of your band is even more impressive. But IDLES launched their nationwide tour with a sold-out gig in Bath.
Admittedly, it’s hard to reconcile the Bristolian band’s staunch anti-Conservative lyrics with a city that only voted out their Conservative MP last year, and by then everyone was doing it. So who was at the gig? Alistair Shuttleworth, the lead singer of the art-punk opening act, LICE, got to the bottom of this pretty early into their set.
“Are there a lot of people from Bristol here?” He asked.
The entire room cheered.
“And people of Bath, thanks for having us in your city,” he said.
Two whoops and a light shower of applause.
We may have been in one of Bath’s more prominent venues, but we were really in Bristol. I, unfortunately, was not standing in front of the band, soaking up the singer’s odd, theatrical combination of The Fall and Edward Scissorhands. I didn’t have a stamp that said ‘KOMEDIA’ on my hand, but one that said ‘BALCONY.’ It was like a hungry man watching a video of people eating.
LICE, also from Bristol, seemed shaky at first; a little withdrawn, with the frontman shouting his lyrics at the ceiling as if it had personally wronged him. But soon they settled into the warmth of the crowd and, rollicking around heavy basslines, LICE fell into their element. Shuttleworth even leapt into the crowd to physically form a moshpit, literally warming the crowd up for the headline act. You couldn’t ask for a better-fitted tour-mate.
From the balcony, I couldn’t help feeling I was missing the real core of the performance. I couldn’t stay up here. IDLES wouldn’t stay up here. I decided to break in. For a man whose biggest act of rebellion is not waiting for the green man before crossing the road, it was a big moment. I spied a particularly boisterous group about to re-enter. Sweating, and feeling like I had ‘balcony’ stamped on my forehead, I tacked along. The bouncer glanced at my hand and waved me through. I was in. What next? Robbing a bank?
The crowd, many wearing ‘save our NHS’ stickers were restless with impatience, and when IDLES hit the stage, it was to a roar of welcome. The room was heaving. They hadn’t played a song yet, and the crowd was almost feverish. As they cracked through the first few songs, mostly from Brutalism, it’s clear that in the last few years they’ve stepped up their game.
Their energy was immense, the band bouncing around the stage like pennies in a washing machine. Talbot beat the mic against his chest, his delivery gruff and intense. Mark Bowen, the lead guitarist, characteristically down to his pants, twirled his guitar lead like it was the hem of a dress.
Things got feral when the dissonant opening chords of ‘Well Done’ rang through the room. In the mosh pit, I saw one guy with blood dripping down his grinning face and past his ‘save our NHS’ sticker. It seemed fitting. The home crowd had grown frenzied over one of the most promising local acts in years, and it’s easy to see why.
Between IDLES’ rebellious spirit (“the best way to scare a Tory/is to read and get rich”) and their empathetic approach to social issues (“masculinity/is a mask/ that is wearing me”), they tapped right into the frustrations and ambitions of young Bristolians. It was written all over the crowd’s bloodied face. Even if they were in Bath.