While gigs have been sorely missed during the coronavirus, we haven’t been short of live music in lockdown. Most of this has come in the form of intimate, stripped-down home shows – just the artist, an acoustic guitar or piano, and plenty of audience interaction.

As the pandemic has gone on, however, lockdown live streams have become more ambitious. Take Idles’ three-sets from Abbey Road studios. This is a multi-camera, high definition, full-band set. It’s not the same as seeing them live an in-person, but it’s still exhilarating to watch.

The band’s third album, ‘Ultra Mono’, comes out on 25 September, hence the Abbey Road sets. While the band litters a selection of tracks from the new release across the two days – mainly the singles released earlier this year – the lock-in sessions are more of a retrospective of the band’s career so far – skipping the very early ‘Welcome’ EP (which the band detests).

The band opens the first set with ‘Heel/Heal’ from its debut album, ‘Brutalism’. Like much of the band’s material, it’s a caterwauling burst of leftfield punk (though the band isn’t keen on the ‘p’ word), an incessant and jittery rhythm section intersected with bursts of glorious noise. They follow this up with ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’, from ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’, the tension in the simple, repetitive riff undermining the bravado of the lyrics.

This being a professional live stream from one of the best studios in the world, you get to see the band from all angles – each member gets their close-up, either from the static cameras set up around the studio space or the Steadicam shooting the band from the front. There’s even an overhead camera.

It’s not quite a live show as you know it, nor is it quite the same as watching a TV performance; it feels more intimate than that. It almost feels like you’re sitting in on a band’s rehearsal, with the false starts, self-deprecation and in-jokes that come with it.

On the surface, Idles seem to fit into a certain subset of UK indie act – vaguely laddish, very direct, conversational lyrics, littered with cultural references. But for all the apparent beeriness, the band laces its music with plenty of vulnerability. Frontman Joe Talbot has written emotional songs about the death of his mother and the stillbirth of his daughter, in emotionally raw and moving songs that casual listeners might not be expecting. He often rails against toxic masculinity and small-mindedness – recent single ‘Model Village’, for example, pokes fun at the ‘little Englander' attitude that has undergone a big resurgence post-Brexit.

That song turns up in set two, which features a couple of the band’s biggest songs: the epic ‘Colossus’ and the extremely catchy celebration of immigrants ‘Danny Nedelko’. The band don’t repeat themselves – each set is unique, with a good balance of old and new material.

The new songs are extremely promising. The first new song they play, ‘Kill Them With Kindness’, builds on a simple, two-chord riff, with Talbot channelling both David Yow and Mark E Smith in his performance (if I was to describe the band’s sound in a sentence, it would be !sort of a weird cross between The Jesus Lizard, The Fall, The Strokes and The Walkmen"). Single ‘Mr Motivator’ comes later in the first set, channelling more Jesus Lizard-like menace and Half Man Half Biscuit-like absurdity.

Set two includes two more, previously released singles. ‘Grounds’ is all huge, staccato guitars, while ‘Model Village’ stitches together a big, Strokes-like chorus and yes, more Half Man-style, semi-spoken humour. ‘War’ opens set three – it’s big, angry, discordant and exhilarating. ‘A Hymn’ – another single – is Idles at their most atmospheric. The guitars shimmer with Walkmen-like echo as Talbot croons "I wanna be loved/Everybody does." His lyrics on the band’s more emotional songs are sparse but affecting.

Each set also includes a unique ‘mystery’ cover by the band, with giant lyric sheets delivered by an assistant before the band plays each. In set one, the Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ is transformed into a crawling, gothic dirge, only recognisable by its lyrics. The Strokes’ ‘Reptilia’ in the second set is relatively more faithful, only in that Talbot sticks close to the original vocal melody – musically, the band strip it right back and add some welcome gnarl.

The band closes set three with a barnstorming cover of ‘Helter Skelter’, the most faithful cover of them all, and really throw themselves into it. They segue into the old Placebo hit ‘Pure Morning’ for a few lines before slamming back into ‘Helter Skelter’, which devolves into the kind of fun jam familiar to any band that has gone off on an interesting tangent during a rehearsal.

It’s not quite the same as being in the room with them – there’s nothing quite like a real gig – this was special in its own way.







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