Halfway through this gig and I have an epiphany, via bumping into someone. The collision takes place between me and a burly, shaven headed guy similarly in his 40’s, someone who frankly looks like he’d be just as comfortable marching around Manchester tomorrow with the EDL. The moment of awkwardness is, for a nanosecond, intense, a you-nearly-spilt-my-pint intersection between two males conditioned by Rambo, Die Hard, Jason Statham and Dapper Laughs.
Just as instantly, it’s over. We share a laugh, smile and pat each other on the shoulder – any respect being dissed is now on the floor of The Ritz’s carpet along with a few drops of his acrid, over priced lager. The brief encounter makes me realise that this gift that Idles have bestowed upon us is manifestly one that breaks down barriers and builds harmony on a scale not seen since the whoosh of Acid House in the late 80’s; then football hooligans and ravers stood toe to toe on sweaty dance floors around Britain professing love for each other via the medium of ecstasy, tonight it’s thanks to the euphoria of an unknown chemical compound, a word that glues the anthemic Danny Nedelko to the foreheads of bigots and fools alike – the phenomenon is beautiful, and it’s name is unity.
Idles by even more than modest standards now have a big voice that absolutely no-one could’ve predicted just a couple of years ago, a period when they had the turning circle of a bus and were living almost invisibly in their adopted home of Bristol. True, they have a work ethic that would cripple bands half their age, but these are men on a mission, ragged trousered street philosophers whose second album is a calculated blow for reason amongst the tidal wave of big dumb that keeps soaking us with hate and fear and threats.
Manchester is in one of those moods too, a feeling that collectively it’s here to give the quintet as gooder time as it gets back. From the grating bass thud of opener Colossus to the feedback scrawl of the finale Rottweiler, this fevered connection means that pretty much the Ritz’s entire downstairs is turned into a swirling moshpit that broils uncontrollably through the likes of Heel Heel, 1049 Gotho and I’m Scum. Singer Joe Talbot is openly moved by the audience’s fierce commitment, but more by what lies beyond it, a bond which welds the five and their fans together existing at a level buried far beneath the guts of their visceral punk.
It’s correct that their second album Joy As An Act Of Resistance took risks, a truth bomb that dares to give a name to 21st century masculinity, that rails against conspicuous consumption, cultural diarrhoea and the grand mal institutional fascism of the country’s elite. We’ve all been dragged so far backwards that we really need someone to remind us that the greatest battle an individual can face is the one to keep their own identity, but to counter that both Television and Love Song are blunt therapeutic instruments, a crash course in reminding our neuroses that 99.9% of today’s media is a malign and disposable lie.
How Idles arrived here is something of a wonderful mystery. Rottweiler baits the star making machine they could’ve used, the ladders and snakes which artists are meant to traverse just to be thrown some crumbs from a table only full supplication earns an invite to. It’s also of course a f*cking great song, a twisted, non-linear, eye scratch of a tune that goes from terrace chant to hardcore rage and finishes in a swathe of chaotic, glorious feedback.
About 20 minutes before that I’d bumped into someone and we’d loved ourselves and in that moment each other; Talbot and friends are connecting people like this by sheer force of will, just a few for now, each of them like nodes on a map surrounded by forces that have successfully been dividing and sub dividing us all until everyone felt alone. Idles are like a flower in their gun barrel. Like the MDMA bandits of old, right now they have a manifesto for change that no other British musicians can make seem more complete or necessary.