[LIVE REVIEW] IDLES // Oxford Art Factory // 28/01/19

In the corner of the Oxford Art Factory, near the door that leads through to the toilets, there’s a commemorative plaque for the late, great Rowland S. Howard. It’s there on account of the underground Sydney venue being the place where Howard played what ended up being his final-ever live show, just after the release of his solo album Pop Crimes. Tonight, just after 8:30, if you glance over from the plaque to the stage, you’ll see Sydney sextet City Rose. This is a band that serves as a continuation of Howard’s legacy, embodying his primal and abrasive approach to guitar playing, as well as vocal delivery that’s indebted to the likes of The Birthday Party. That’s not to say, however, that their work is entirely parallel to that of their heroes. They’re influenced, certainly, but City Rose are also inspired – see the swell of violin from stage left, or the guttural honk of baritone sax from stage right. These fill space in the compositions unconventionally, which themselves are already significantly varied and multifaceted to the point of no two songs sounding the same. Ambitious, angular and artistic, City Rose are unquestionably ones to watch in the coming year.

As Australians consuming international music, there’s often a struggle with enjoying a somewhat niche artist or band, knowing full well the chances of them coming all the way across to this country are slim to none. It was a wonderful surprise, then, when Bristol five-piece IDLES not only announced a headlining Australian tour, but had those shows promptly sell out completely. The venue feels very complete by the time the band make their way on stage – there is next to no room to move on the floor, with the crowd spilling out onto the stairwell and right up to the back wall. That’s when it starts – the unmistakable click of sticks on the rim of the snare drum that opens “Colossus,” the mammoth side-A-track-1 from last year’s Joy as an Act of Resistance. Something feels different, however. It’s not as urgent as on the recording. It’s more calculated; more precise. As it turns out, the band intentionally slow the song to a crawl when they play it live so they can build up to the manic sprint of its final burst. This tension and release sees the crowd slowly transform from knowing nods to a flurry of bodies, and that energy doesn’t drop for the next hour and change.

Performing a fairly-even mix of Joy and 2017’s Brutalism, each song is met with a deafening vocal reinforcement. Vocalist Joe Talbot is easily able to stick his microphone out at the crowd at any juncture and have his words recited back at a level that rivals the PA. It’s rare to see a band that hold such power over their audience – and, furthermore, use that power entirely for good. Talbot constantly checks in to ensure the safety of punters, while guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan both venture into the depths of the crowd at various junctures to give a fully-interactive experience to even those the furthest up the back. From the rousing pro-immigration anthem “Danny Nedelko” to the fan-requested “Heel/Heal,” there’s barely a moment to draw breath. It’s intense, yes, but at the same time it’s also radiating with positive energy. This is a band that means what it says and says what it means, and it’s this conviction that has clearly struck a chord with a small army of people on the other side of the world to them.

As the band jam extensively on “Rottweiler” to close out, one gets the feeling this show could go another hour and we still would be screaming for even more. This is the kind of show where everyone, both on and off stage, gets just as much out as they put in. In other words, it’s a joy.

Review – David James Young