Bossing a Santa hat and Hawaiian shirt, Joe Talbot looks a bit like The Grinch: in the crowd approximately two thousand Yorkshireman (Or honorary ones if they weren’t, just for tonight) are waiting to see if he thinks they’ve been naughty or nice.
Laying beneath the tree are all manner of musical gifts, from acapella renditions of Nillson, U2 and Stevie Wonder to guitarist Lee Kiernan’s instrument arriving back post a crowd excursion a minute after he does. Yorkshire responds by depositing a sweat stained beanie onto the stage. It’s that sort of evening.
Any questions about it are largely rhetorical. Are the quintet honed skin-tight after more or less a year of constant touring? Of course. Is the opener Colossus as immense as ever, the tension stoked to boiling point before a frenzied mosh-pit release? Damn right. Would for instance Michael Gove have been welcome if he’d strolled into the venue? Put it this way, some of that experience as Health Secretary might’ve come in useful if he had.
Talbot wears not just the Christmas chapeau tonight but many others: he’s a toreador who puts hundreds of pinballing, crowd-surfing hedonists through their paces during the likes of Mother, Never Fight A Man With A Perm and the majestically grinding Divide And Conquer, a heckler owning sprite, a proud husband and father. The band and its music are equally multi layered, polemicists with heart, rock and rollers who bring feminism and empathy to a form of music usually doused with testosterone.
They use this double edged sword with caution, but also an awareness that their messages fit neatly with the thoughts of a new, highly politicised group of citizens that have started seeing Britain with different eyes since 2016. The night’s one new song Grounds is a call to arms for them, a moral minority who will have to fend for themselves and each other in the years to come.
Talbot also takes a moment to commend his band mates for staying friends during his time as an addict, one in which he lost sight of himself, but they did not. You feel that when he sings about unity on the set’s penultimate number Danny Nedleko, he means it in every context, both of communities big and small, a right to depend on each other as well as seeking forgiveness for yourself.
If there’s nuance in that, on closer Rottweiler the enemy – Britain’s far right tabloids, pumping bile into living rooms every day – receives no quarter, having asked for none. “There’s a snake in my boot” Talbot spits, whilst the wall of death smashes together one last time, clearly a man who, far from being exhausted by the ignorance, is only just getting warmed up, a ghost of Christmas present with a finger in the eye for haters everywhere.
He and everyone else in here know that’s the beauty of an Idles gig: you can get punched in the face, but hug the person who did it afterwards. Mistletoe’s optional.