Ambient Music

IDLES, Auckland New Zealand, 2022


29th October 2022
The Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Kev Rowland. Photography by Doug Peters.

Back to Auckland Town Hall again tonight to see yet another rock gig. There have been some wonderful events here this year, and would tonight bring the same level of excitement? IDLES’ debut album, Brutalism, may have gone somewhat under the radar but the following three have been huge hits worldwide, garnering plenty of awards along the way, and with the same line-up for all four, tonight’s gig promised to be some show.

It was my first time at the Town Hall for a standing gig, and the queue was back down past Aotea Square, so I was incredibly pleased to be able to sneak in ahead of many and get upstairs to the circle in time for the opening act, local duo Earth Tongue, a band I had last seen when they supported the mighty Beastwars at the Power Station last year. They feature Gussie Larkin (guitar, vocals) and Ezra Simons (drums, vocals), and together they create a grungy early Seventies psych rock monster which is simply incredible to behold. Gussie uses an effects board which allows her to switch her guitar into a many headed beast.

They kicked off with the opening track from their 2019 album, Microscopic God, a strange, syncopated number with both singing, forcing us into the world of doom. There were many nodding heads as they showed just why they have such a reputation for being one of the most monstrous bands around. There is a long instrumental passage in this one, where both musicians were egging the other one, looking into each other’s eyes, right until Gussie hit the pedalboard and the distortion belted out, lifting it up massively. These guys create an incredible sound and when they finished Hidden Entrance there was a loud cheer from the audience who probably had no idea what was going on in front of them but knew they liked it. When Gussie hits the distortion pedal she really stamps on it, stepping away to set herself into the stage like a Seventies rock goddess.

By now downstairs was full, with everyone facing towards the front, as even if you don’t like this form of music there is no way you can ignore it, not at this volume.

Sit Next to Satan starts heavy, and then they ramp it up, fitting solidly into the early Seventies form, with hints of more modern bands like Candlemass, but relying firmly on acts like Black Widow. The longer they played, the more the crowd reacted, and they had gone from gentle head nodding to being firmly behind the guys, even when they were messing about with time signatures. They ended with one of their older numbers, Pentagram On The Moon, which features a mighty scream from Ezra which gained loads of cheers. They may been relative unknowns to many when they started tonight but there was no doubt their unfettered raw doom made them lots of new friends by the time they finished.

The stage was quickly cleared and reset for the main event of Joe Talbot (vocals), Mark Bowen (guitar), Lee Kiernan (guitar), Adam Devonshire (bass) and Jon Beavis (drums). Colossus started with drumsticks, a crunching bass, and then Joe’s vocals over the top. The crowd were all singing as one, waiting for what was to come. Joe had his back to the audience, then the pace lifted, the guitars came in, and everything started to lift to a crescendo and the crowd went nuts. It felt as if music was being used as a weapon, discordant, post punk, full of anger and ferocity and the previously stable crowd became a mass of humanity, pushing and swelling against each other. He then had the crowd lit up so everyone could see each other, and he asked the crowd to split in two, all the way to the back. “Are you ready to collide?” he roared, and then it was on, brutal and unforgiving, with Lee Kiernan crowdsurfing on top of the crowd, still playing.

The lights came back on and most of those in the circle and all the way up in the balcony were grooving along to Car Crash, with its twisted sounds, and Joe again laying out his pain and angst. Mark Bowen is a man possessed, taken away by the music being created, no matter if he is playing guitar or keyboards, at one with the sound in some weird twisted Hawkwind early Seventies style. Wearing a long orange dress, he is always in motion, less manic than Lee, and a perfect visual counterpoint to the singular ferocity of Talbot. I have seen Talbot likened to Henry Rollins and the band to Black Flag, and while I may not agree with that musically, their intensity is definitely just as powerful.

There is an urgency in their music, honesty and sincerity, and a sense of reality from a band who are grateful for the support they received from their fans. Talbot said it was an honour to be back in the country and a gift to see everyone here tonight (the last time they played The Tuning Fork) and their gift to their fans was Mother. They may have had worldwide success, but one gets the impression that here is a band who take nothing for granted, and are still fans themselves, not lifted apart from those in the audience but bringing everyone together.

I hate to think how many snare heads Beavis gets through on tour as with every strike he lifts the drumstick above his head and does his level best to drive right through it, creating a real crack for the band to work against. Samaritans was as abrasive and choppy as one would hope, with the audience joining on every word. Talbot swung his microphone like a demented Roger Daltrey and then the song stopped on a dime.

Talbot often paces the stage in a circle, so driven he cannot bear to stand still, while the crowd were permanently in motion, mobbing backwards and forward, taking the crowd surfers with them. The music is violent, unrelenting and abrasive as they switched from Divide and Conquer to Crawl!, with Talbot spitting out his words like a nail gun, while the security guards sprayed the water with audience in an attempt to keep people from passing out. Audience lights kept coming on through the night as the band needed to see what was happening, checking the reactions, keeping it real and connected.

By the time we got to The Wheel, Talbot’s tight black shirt was soaked, and the drum tech was having to do running repairs for Beavis, such was the ferocity of the attack, while in the audience everyone was still dancing. Devonshire may be the least mobile of the group, staying in a very small area about 3 feet square, but it is his playing tied in with Beavis which allows everyone else to go off at tangents, keeping it tight and on point throughout. Television is drenched in feedback at times, at others there is no guitar at all, but the crowd are always there, singing the words as they have all night. The reactions here tonight were some of the most visceral I had ever seen from an audience, with people literally screaming from the intensity as their bodies jerked in time to the music. A mosh started during the introduction to A Hymn, and although quite a few found themselves falling over, as soon as that happened, they were immediately lifted up, violence with compassion and empathy.

Jon and Lee took a break during War, with two locals brought up on stage to replace them, and they certainly had a blast, while a circle pit broke out in the middle of the crowd. Lee of course was right in the middle of everything and had to get back up onto the stage from crowd. I did find myself smiling when the band blasted through Wizz as that ferocious attack is pure grindcore, but I don’t see many of these people at the grindcore gigs I attend. It is impossible to think of anything more musically removed to follow that than The Beachland Ballroom, with contains huge elements of loungecore, but that is what makes this band such a delight in that they follow no-one’s rules and do whatever they want.

Talbot said, “Thanks for showing us so much love tonight, you made us feel very special. It is a dream to be able to come out here to big crowds with so much energy, you are very kind and very polite and that is not a weakness that is a strength. Thanks for welcoming us into your country.” He then asked if there were any scumbags in the audience and it took three sets of responses before he was happy enough for the band to kick into the mighty I’m Scum, and when he saw security having a go at someone sat on shoulders Talbot told them to leave him alone – it was okay. This really is a band in tune with their people, they are as one, punk with meaning, brutal and honest. When Talbot asked the crowd to chant “Fuck The King”, they were happy not only to do that, but also kneel down, although security stayed standing even though they were asked nicely.

When Talbot speaks, people listen, and when he spoke about being a drug addict he pointed out that although he used to be, he still is, as if there are two of him. Politics drives him, and he dedicated the next song to all the immigrants which made the UK a much better place, Danny Nedelko, something many people in Aotearoa can relate to as well. Now it was time for Bowen to be in the crowd, standing on people’s shoulders as he screamed out the vocals. The end had come, Talbot saluted the crowd with one more call of “Fuck The King”, the announcement of the last song was met first with boos and then with cheers when it seemed like the band may not play any more and then we were into the anti-fascist song for anti-fascist folk, Rottweiler, and the place went nuts for one last time.

There is no doubt that IDLES are one of the most exciting live acts you are ever likely to see. Surely next time it will be Spark Arena as everyone here tonight will come and see them again, and bring all their mates, as this was intense.

Were you there at The Auckland Town Hall for this magnificent punk rock gig? Or have you seen IDLES perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

  1. Colossus
  2. Car Crash
  3. Mr Motivator
  4. Grounds
  5. Mother
  6. Samaritans
  7. Divide & Conquer
  8. Crawl!
  9. 1049 Gotho
  10. When The Lights Come On
  11. The Wheel
  12. Television
  13. A Hymn
  14. War
  15. Wizz
  16. The Beachland Ballroom
  17. Never Fight A Man With A Perm
  18. I’m Scum
  19. The Idles Chant
  20. Danny Nedelko
  21. Rottweiler

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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