Tuesday night saw grungy, surf-psych quartet The Wytches headline Leeds venue The Wardrobe. This had been a long time coming, since their newest album, Three Mile Ditch, is almost a year old and only now getting the chance to be properly toured. The excitement to see these not so new songs in action was palpable, as a crowd gathered ready to mosh for the entirety of the set. The band opened with “Who Rides?” which despite being a non-album track proved to be a live fan favourite. Bodies hurled around the front, twisting, and contorting in motion with the heavy, grungy guitars that reverberated from the stage. The Wytches leaned towards tracks from Three Mile Ditch, but also made sure to include fan favourites such as “Gravedweller” and “Digsaw” which were played with such intensity and heaviness that I haven’t been able to get these performances out of my head since. There was genuine excitement for the return to normality in live music evident in their playing, as if the uncertainty of the pandemic has propelled them to make every show just as intense and memorable as possible for the audience and themselves.
As I tried to squint and see the rest of the setlist taped by each member’s feet, I could vaguely work out that the set was coming to an end. A wave of panic flew over me; I wanted to watch the band thrash their instruments around for a lot longer. Nearing the end of their set, a few guitar chords began which I instantly recognised as “She’s So Far Out”, a track that is only available to listen to on The Wytches’ YouTube channel. This track is one of their heavier, darker moments, and the tiny venue, with a crowd bursting with enthusiasm packed tightly inside, was the perfect setting to hear such a song. The band ended the night with an encore, performing “Beehive Queen” from Annabel Dream Reader. I was incredibly happy to be hearing this track, as there was definitely a lack of songs played from their debut. Understandably, the band preferred to play their newer songs, but judging by their fans, who barely stopped to catch a breath, a longer set that mixed in more older tracks such as “Crying Clown”, “Robe for Juda”, and “Burn out the Bruise”, would not go amiss.
For a band revered for their live prowess, gathering acclaim for their explosive and vibrant shows, it’s always a shame that they aren’t currently able to demonstrate this to an in house audience. One of their regular hold-stead’s is The Windmill in Brixton where the band have on many occasions crossed paths with fellow contemporary post-punk/experimental rock outfit Black Midi, forming the supergroup Black Midi, New Road. But on this occasion the band are at a venue as grand as the heights their music reaches.
The band opened with a new, as of so far, live track “Mark’s Theme”, a gentle croon in led by saxophonist Lewis Evans; settling everyone in before the explosion of the rest of the show. They took their time to fully prepare themselves and set into motion playing debut album For The First Time in full. From the moment that drummer Charlie Wayne bashed out the opening beats of “Opus” with even more intensity than the album, you knew this was going to be something special.
The energy that they brought to the stage was simultaneously chaotic and controlled. As lead singer Isaac Wood sought to reek as much havoc as he could with flailing guitar lines and on the opening part of “Science Fair” the rest of the band stayed comfortably in place, waiting for him to land back down. As the distorted guitars got louder and the saxophone lines from Evans got more frantic you could feel every ounce of the bands energy being put into these songs. On the album Wood’s erratic vocals are one of the major driving points of the turbulent nature of the stories that he tells, whether its the wave of empowerment that he gains from simply wearing sunglasses, or wishing he’d never written letters to a past lover, the ferocity is encapsulating. And here he somehow turns this up to 11. Perhaps helped by the fact you can see the despair on his face, but you can feel every woe-some musing cascade from him as if he were your inner psyche.
One thing that you realise when watching the band is how much these songs sound like the studio recordings. Of course that will have been backed up by the sound system going through the same speakers that people at home listen to the album on. But this only demonstrates how in sync and controlled the band really are when playing these songs. Many of which have been around for a few years now, but they still feel as fresh and alive as ever. For many people watching this might be the first performance of the band they’ve seen; it certainly won’t be the last.
An aspect of the band that has been alluring is the level of, or lack of, publicity they give to themselves as individuals, preferring to be recognised as a collective in its whole form rather than a group of individuals. And their stage set up matches that perfectly. Wood is tucked away in the left corner, seemingly to sing at the rest of the band as Evans takes centre stage with saxophone in hand. Each other member equally spaced to give them enough room to shine whilst locking into the bigger picture. Their stage design also kept in theme with this anonymity as well as the album design. A background slideshow of various stock images of people, landscapes and animals all drew the focus onto the music, rather than the imagery.
At one point the select few in the audience stood up, which could be assumed would be for applause. But the actual reason was something much great. The camera’s panned round and every member was holding a microphone, to which they all joined together and sang together as a huge chorus. Adding backing vocals on the tender “Track X”, the dooming cathartic climax of “Opus” and most impressively they gave live staple “Basketball Shoes” a new feeling of explosive grandeur. This joint band/ audience sound only makes you wish to see the band live even more, just to feel the intensity they can create by bringing people together.
This was an incredible showcase of the bands’ dexterity that allowed the concise nature of the their music to expand within the space. Black Country, New Road may be at the very inception of their career, but there’s already so much to be admired. We sure can’t wait to get to admire that spectacle in person.
What happens when a band revered for their high energy, chaos induced and passionately charged live shows descends on a studio that is one of the pinnacles of the music world? Pure cathartic magic.
It’s not like they’re not used to playing these iconic venues though. Last year headlining Alexandra Palace and selling out it’s 10,000 person capacity within an hour. And have recently announced a run of new UK shows for next year that sees them serve a four night residency at Brixton Academy. The difference here though is though the usual mosh pits and unify anthemic chorus’ were missing. But we know that thanks to the community IDLES have created around their music, everyone watching forgot where they were, at least for a time.
It has certainly been a strange year for live music. With the usual barage of summer festivals taken away for obvious reasons, and venues closed for the foreseeable future. Band have had to find new ways to connect with their fans. IDLES have always been a community band. The AF Gang Facebook group is a homage to the love and admiration that not only the fans have for the band but the band has for the fans.
Over the course of these 3 ‘lock-in’ sessions IDLES delivered one of the most raw and resounding live performances of the livestream age. With the setlists spanning their entire discography, including the four new singles from their forthcoming album Ultra Mono, due on September 25th. “It feels like we’re under the microscope” proclaims lead singer Joe Talbot and like most experiments under a laboratory, it’s fascinating to watch and will even throw up some surprises.
Blasting straight into action with ‘Heel/ Heal’, the sound is frantic, raw and yet consistently focused. It’s been quite some time since the band fully performed together, but they look and feel at home. Feeding off each others desire to get back into what they love, delivering thunderous live performances. And in true rock and roll fashion, Set 1 ended with a guitar smash from Bowen during ‘Rottweieller’. The lyrics do insist to “Smash it, ruin it, destroy the world”
It’s not just the fast popping punk riffs that show off their live prowess though, but some of the darker, moodier moments. The transition from ‘Gram Rock’ to ‘Date Night’ is ominous and boding, as the almost western film soundtrack like riff slowly chugs along. After viewing all these songs thrown together it’s easy to see how much the bands sound has grown over the years. Moving from the bouncing riffs of ‘Rachel Khoo ‘ to the marching beats and highly synthesised guitar riff of new single ‘Grounds’. But
Talbot has always been a passioned singer, he delivers the lines with conviction and intent. You can see what these songs and the messages he puts in them mean to him. Through his gritted teeth the anthems of a revolutionist and forward thinking generation are sung. “The best way to scare a tory is to read and get rich” he instructs on ‘Mother’.
There may not be an audience to react to but they still own the stage, keeping everyones digital eyes fully on them. Guitarist Mark Bowen still prancing about during riff breaks, he’s even suited himself up this time; usual attire is limited to just underwear. Talbot hops on the floor tom to help drummer Jon Beavis during ‘Rottweiler’. And Lee Kiernan, who’s usual approach is to take his guitar playing into the audience, still finds a wall to climb as he’s serenaded by Bowen with a medley of one line covers.
They even had time to throw in some devastatingly brutal but brilliant covers, with the highlight being The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, which I’m sure everyone is aware, but was in fact recorded at Abbey Road studios. A song that’s received its fair share of covers of the years, but none have ever sounded this empowered, haunting and beefed out.
Yes there were a couple of restarts and missed cues, but this just added to the emphasis that this was a show for the fans; it had to sound right. They even brought out the enlarged lyrics sheets at points. “Reminding me what a terrible singer I am” jokes Talbot before they kicked into action on the high paced ‘Mr. Motivator’.
There were also a plethora of dedications on the third set, one to a fan who sadly passed away of cancer and one to “The NHS and all our key workers who’ve kept us afloat, long live open minded, down with tory scum”.
“I miss this so fucking much” proclaimed Talbot during the third set. So do we Joe, so do we.