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Idles' Melbourne show was more than a frenzied punk-fest but a roaring socio-political discussion

The burgeoning English punk group had punters talking.

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David Harris

It’s 9.30pm. Idles are due on in 15 minutes. Two men strike up a conversation in the bar line. One’s Australian, the other sounds British. “It’s not the sort of punk I’m into,” says the Australian guy. “Oh, OK. What are you into?” says the Brit.

“I’ve been listening to a lot of emo. Do you know Modern Baseball?” says the Australian.

“No. Do you listen to much Australian stuff?” returns the British chap.

“Nah. I think Australian music’s pretty shit. I listen mainly to American bands,” the Australian quips.

“OK. Idles are really interesting. They’re singing about Brexit, about masculinity. It’s not your average stuff,” says the British man.

“To me it sounds like it’s about 30 years old,” says the emo-lover. “I think his singing style’s pretty atrocious.”

The British guy exhibited admirable patience throughout this exchange, but then he knew he was in the majority. On Thursday night Idles sold out the Corner. Friday it was the same result at The Croxton and while their latest album, Joy As An Act of Resistance, is only five months old, the front half of the venue was so frenzied you’d think it was a time-honoured classic.

Idles are a unique proposition. Their music’s ugly, loud, aggressive and sarcastic, but it’s also empathetic, self-aware and tender. And so the atmosphere was marked by idiosyncrasies. Opening number ‘Colossus’ is a dirge-like, Alice in Chains-style exorcism but it switches to a brain rinsing pop punk sing-along around the four-minute mark. The crowd went suitably nuts at this transition; pint cups flying everywhere and men and women pogoing wildly in what could’ve been a release of anxiety and rage or just a celebration of the freedom to scream.

 
 
 
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This feeling permeated as the band pushed on with songs that deconstruct masculine pride (‘Samaritans’), expose Tory Party austerity (‘Divide and Conquer’), highlight the systemic perpetuation of sexual violence (‘Mother’), and make a case for open borders and multi-cultural integration (‘Danny Nedelko’).

They carried out the socio-political examination while thrashing through primal punk rock arrangements, swigging beers and letting guitarist Mark Bowen strip off his overgarments. Frontman Joe Talbot delivered every line with determined passion. So much so, in fact, that he looked perceptibly drained during the fleeting instrumental sections.

Idles are a hard band not to like. Their songs are simple and direct and Talbot is responsible for some of the best verses in UK punk history. But the five-piece are somewhat let down by their preference for a shout-along chorus. It’s not a flawed intention, but so often the choruses feel a bit lame compared to the intensity of the verses.

That said, when you’re dealing with such weighty subjects, erupting into “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/Hey, ey, ey, ey,” is an apt way to release the angst. Regardless, the Croxton Bandroom was fizzing with sweat, spilt beer and calls for unity all night.

Highlight: Talbot giving kudos to the NHS.

Lowlight: The amount of cups thrown around.

Crowd favourite: 'Danny Nedelko'.