Review: IDLES Deliver A Message of Love in Wild Style at The Fonda

The Idles crushed it at The Fonda - Photos © 2021 LUIS MORENO


IDLES, perhaps one of the best live performing bands around, drew throngs of pierced-and-tatted fans lined up around the corner at the Fonda the other night, and they did not disappoint.

The Bristol-born punk outfit has created a niche where they dominate:  Defiant music not founded on indignance or hatred, but of radical self-love and acceptance.

IDLES, comprised of Joe Talbot (vocals), Mark Bowen (guitar), Lee Kiernan (guitar), Adam Devonshire (bass), and Jon Beavis (drums), have earned three critically-acclaimed records since their 2017 debut, Brutalism, and an upcoming album, CRAWLER, to be released on November 12, just a few days away. Los Angeles is the 18th leg of The Beauty From the Ashes Tour to follow the success of their 2020 record, Ultra Mono.

IDLES joined on stage by opener Gustaf at the Fonda – Photo © 2021 LUIS MORENO

The NYC-based punk group Gustaf, composed of vocalist Lydia Gammill, bassist Tine Hill, vocalist/percussionist Tarra Thiessen, and drummer Melissa Lucciola, opened for IDLES on all three of their Los Angeles dates, setting the scene with piercing vocals, raucous DIY instrumentation, and a heaping dose of unabashed self-expression. The artsy group has been a post-pandemic mainstay and is touring their debut album, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs.

Gammill restlessly creeps about the stage while sneering into the microphone about how much she loves you or laments the music industry, as Kherlopian strikes his guitar in grating repetition; all the while, Thiessen is banging on a drum fashioned from an old coffee can or playing a squawking rubber chicken, it’s something of a scene from the island of misfit toys. More than a few members donned glitter. They’re all constantly moving; Gammil’s vocals are charged with paranoid nervous energy reminiscent of Jonathan Richman’s work in the Modern Lovers. Gustaf’s sardonic take on the music scene and popular culture delivered in a smattering of unnerving vocals, the occasional flute, and sometimes jarring instrumental passages make them the perfect introduction to our favorite anti-antagonist punk rockers.

Fans clamor to cheer on IDLES at The Fonda – Photo © 2021 Luis Moreno

When IDLES took to the stage, vocalist Joe Talbot stormed into the audience, pointed at a fan sporting a pink cowboy hat, yelled at him to come over, and gave the fan a huge hug. The audience cooed. The tone of the approaching evening was decisively set. IDLES draw a crowd that couldn’t be more earnestly delighted and reverential to the mania they’re about to embark upon.

They open with slow-burner “Colossus,” coyly withholding the raucous that will soon take hold as the quintet plunges into the rest of their throttling setlist.

IDLES at The Fonda – Photo © 2021 Luis Moreno

After a rendition of CRAWLER’s second single, “Car Crash,” something surges through the crowd as the riff of “Mr. Motivator” begins to sound like an alarm. Frenetic energy seems to take hold, and the audience begins to move under the guidance of Talbot’s commanding vocal delivery; however, when IDLES fans mosh to Talbot’s terse growl, they don’t knock into each other; they’ve been instructed to take care of each other tonight, so, they move as one. This fan-favorite followed by “Grounds” and “Mother” composes a three-track run that sends the audience hurtling towards a night of total self-abandonment.

Any of my efforts to take notes were in vain, audience participation is required. Moreso, the band seems to harbor a general disdain for the raised platform they’ve been situated upon. Each member, particularly Kiernan with his affinity for crowd-surfing, makes frequent trips into the audience. Talbot articulates such an earnest admiration for his spectators between songs, and any chance to eliminate the arbitrary laws of performer and spectator is taken; microphones are sent hurling into the audience, Bowen takes to the center of the floor to play a few songs, and several fans find themselves sharing the stage with IDLES throughout the night. Clearly, Talbot’s deliverance on the urgency of community and vulnerability is neither for optics nor theatrics.

IDLES rock The Fonda – Photo © 2021 Luis Moreno

Of course, at first glance, the punk outfit does appear as somewhat of an optical illusion. Jon Beavis’s drumming rings like gunshots over a thundering bass; both guitars emanate screeching tones, one coming from Kiernan as he jitters about the stage in a floral gown, the other from Bowen who I found standing next to me, delivering his bombastic riffs from the pit; and, most markedly, Talbot’s burly stature waxes poetic about his profound love for his bandmates and fans and contemporary social issues.

IDLES are composed of big-friendly-giants primed to scream about vulnerability and self-love until you have it alone. And they don’t sacrifice any scrap of intensity for their optimism. I thought my car was about to get towed and unfortunately had to leave just before a blistering rendition of fan-favorite “I’m Scum.” Lucky for me, I could clearly hear the pro-working-class, pro-”snowflake” manifesto from where my car was parked, two blocks away from the venue.

IDLES – Photo ˙© 2021 Luis Moreno

To many, IDLES’ open-armed embrace of positivity and profound love for their fellow humans may seem like a complete rupture of punk’s inimical mold; it’s not. The punk idiom has always thrived on social discontent and authenticity, making Talbot’s mission of creating a more vulnerable, accepting people in line with the genre’s origins. In modern culture, punk as an epithet is seen at best as trivial idealism, at worse as violent.

IDLES music harkens back to the genre’s halcyon days where the musicians’ goals were as simple as the music: authenticity and defiance. As Talbot proselytizes on toxic masculinity (“Samaritans”), the evils of modern warfare (“War”), mental health struggles (“Anxiety”), or exploitative media (“Television”), his audience is being freed from the stifling silence that surrounds many of these issues.

It’s no surprise that IDLES have managed to transcend vast circles of listenership, their lyrics border on child-like simplicity that releases many of the topics they tackle from their heady packaging. As the show progresses, the band seems to tackle every social issue plaguing the modern world, and the general sentiment seems to be that if you can scream about the issue, you can confront the issue. It’s their bare-bones, no-frills honesty that has captured the ears and hearts of such an adoring audience.

When IDLES stray from their canon to play CRAWLER’s lead single, “Beachland Ballroom,” a swell of emotion elicited by the band’s success and the emotional exhaustion that has taken hold blankets the crowd; a few lighters are raised. The set is then turned back around with a riotous delivery of their pro-immigrant anthem, “Danny Nedelko,” wherein an equally energized audience member performs lead vocals in Talbot’s stead, this flexibility speaks to the accessibility and transcendence of IDLES’s art. Their music is practical, anyone can sing it and anyone can relate to it; it’s straightforward. Talbot champions the repetition that has long been a hallmark of punk music, sometimes relying on an animal instinct, opting for growls instead of verses, sometimes letting the relentless rhythm section do the work, or, other times, summing up the exigence of the band in a few words: “Fuck you, I’m a lover (“Lover”).”

The group’s obvious indignance for our epoque of hyper-saturated, performative affairs is reflected by this reliance on instinct. Audience members, strangers and friends alike, quite literally turned to one another during “Television,” and ranted, “If someone talked to you / The way you do to you / I’d put their teeth through /Love yourself.” Brazen, unabashed, and sometimes aggressive joyfulness dominated the night that was both cathartic and wholly liberating for, it seems, audience and performer alike.

IDLES at the Fonda – Photo © 2021 Luis Moreno

As the set comes to a close, IDLES wants to remind the crowd once more what they’re all about. If your view of the band was still obscured by their ruckus and roaring arrangements, their performance of “Love Song,” which Talbot dedicated to every fan in the audience, was a final exaltation of the band’s essence. Talbot bellows out the opening lines (“I wrote a love song / ‘Cause you’re so loveable / carried a watermelon/I wanna be vulnerable”) while a steady bass line locks in below the slashing guitar tones. A microphone is hurled into the audience and the band plunges into a love song medley– here, the punk darlings (backed by audience participation) run through a smattering of love song mainstays– “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Crazy In Love,” “You Spin Me ‘Round,” and others. What resulted in both a cacophonous sludge and a beaming euphoria from all parties involved was final proof of who IDLES are and what they’re trying to do.

Over the course of the night, it became clear that, at least to everyone in the room, screaming and stomping and growling doesn’t make you any less sensitive or human or acceptable. In fact, it seems that IDLES is making a case for more unabashed, defiant self-expression; grating honesty and flagrant vulnerability are the roads to progress according to the new sweethearts of punk rock.

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