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Concert Review: IDLES

Concert Review: IDLES

It will likely soon be hard to catch IDLES in a venue so small.

Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
05/27/2019

(Photo: Peter Hutchins)

Sometimes you just gotta choose: stand towards the back and risk losing the enveloping energy of a true-blue motherfucking punk show or just say “to hell with it” and jump headfirst into the pit. For the Portland stop on IDLES’ recent tour, we decided to throw caution to wind and get close.

Let’s set the scene. Since Portland has draconian-ass liquor laws, the drinking and non-drinking sections are separated. It’s true and it sucks. Even IDLES singer Joe Talbot noticed the division and declaimed how much it sucks. So, picture this: in the limited space up front (the non-drinking section), a mosh pit raged so fiercely that we broke the barrier behind us. The bouncers had to stand at the rear, holding the barrier in place. One of the bigger bouncers began to push people because he enjoyed it. He was smiling as he shoved them. So, I elbowed him in the gut.

The pit felt like something out of the Battle of Winterfell. Non-stop bodies hurtling at me in the darkness. It was hard to see and it was exhausting. My friend quipped that he began to worry for his safety, and that his shitty health insurance wouldn’t cover any potential damage. Talbot also said we should be kind to each other. Which we were but sometimes I would get crushed between the crowd and the bouncer holding the barrier in place in a fleshy trash compactor. Now I know why Luke and Han and the rest were screaming in that one scene. Not three feet behind the chaos, the folks in the drinking section stood by placidly, clutching beers and nodding to the music. Then some dude whipped me in the face with his hair. I think I swallowed some of it.

The chaos added to a sold-out show that was rousing, captivating and extremely positive. In a 16-song set that split the difference between albums Brutalism and Joy as an Act of Resistance, IDLES portrayed an anything-goes punk ethos that not only lifted the spirits of audience members but also served as the piss-in-your-eye antidote we need in the age of Donald Trump. White supremacists and gay bashers are not welcome here. Get the fuck out. Highpoint “Danny Nedelko” celebrates immigrants, a shout-along anthem that praises some of Talbot’s friends.

Most of all, these guys are consummate showmen. Opening song “Colossus” just builds and builds until Talbot is beating himself (with a hand tattooed with Frida Kahlo) in the chest. Guitarist Mark Bowen played shirtless with skintight American flag pants, taking his place on an amp to belt out an a cappella version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” He also did an impressive dance number during the extended freak-out jam that ended the show. Meanwhile, other guitarist Lee Kiernan spent time pushing through the mosh pit. What other band would write a sincere song called “Never Fight a Man with a Perm”?

By the end of nearly 80 minutes of punishing moshing, IDLES left its audience sweaty, exhausted and, by the looks on faces around me, totally elated. Rather than get the fuck out, many folks lingered on the sidewalk afterwards, chatting about the ridiculously good time they just had and how it will likely soon be hard to catch IDLES in a venue so small.

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