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Review: IDLES & Portishead for War Child @ O2 Academy

Fundraising for the war in Ukraine, Portishead returned with unflinching style and IDLES tore the roof off of the O2 Academy.

By Jake Paterson, First Year English

‘Can’t anybody see? / We’ve got a war to fight’ Portishead’s Beth Gibbons slowly croons out over the crowd on their set closer, ‘Roads’. A song written for the moment when solitude becomes a point of reckoning for the next passage through your life.

Despite being separated: by war, persecution, or social isolation, there’s unity in the fact that we can, at least for one night, come together under the lights and change things for the better.

The one-off event at the O2 Academy raised £90,000 for refugees and children affected by the war in Ukraine and brought together almost everything that Bristol had to offer. Local legend Big Jeff occupied his usual place in the crowd on the right hand side of the stage, whilst Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja (3D) created artwork specifically for the event. Other local artists including Katy J Pearson and Willie J Healy also played a set.

As the tickets were allocated through a raffle system, whilst the event was also live streamed worldwide, everyone present in person seemed to feel a huge sense of gratitude to be there.

Portishead Live | Jake Paterson

One of the few bands still operating that can say that they appeared on the influential first War Child HELP Album from 1995, Portishead’s announcement for the fundraiser was met with astounded reverence. The trip-hop group last played a show in 2015 and have seemingly disappeared into the ether since then.

Playing five songs taken from 1994’s masterpiece Dummy and 2008’s Third, every breath that passed through the microphone felt essential: at once rapturous and quiet. Gibbons came off as an almost introspective performer, in that whilst she was not singing she walked to the back of the stage and faced the curtain turning to us only to deliver haunting lines and to briefly thank the crowd at the end with a bottle of Corona in hand.

She traversed ‘Wandering Star’ and ‘The Rip’ with precision that would suggest that her voice had not aged a day in the thirty years since their debut was released.

Portishead Live | Jake Paterson

Their performance seemed captivating perhaps due to its momentary feeling. I have never heard the O2 Academy so filled with sound than when the band took to the stage or finished any one of their songs. That adoration and respect was most clearly communicated through IDLES’ frontman Joe Talbot in exclaiming that he "never wants to go on after my heroes ever again."

IDLES came on after Portishead with a head on assault. As soon as the band launched into ‘Car Crash’ from their latest album CRAWLER, a large shift in the night took place – from respect and adoration to letting go entirely and falling into a wall of sound.

Their set was classic IDLES, jumping between such classics as ‘Mother’ and ‘Never Fight a Man With a Perm’, to sharing the stage with Portishead’s Adrien Utley for ‘The Beachland Ballroom’.

IDLES Live | Jake Paterson

Talbot kept reiterating that the fight against persecution was “our cause”, returning the IDLES tenet of unity and community in that we all contribute to the ecosystem of modern society. This culminated when they played ‘Danny Nedelko’ with the Heavy Lungs Ukrainian frontman of the same name joining the band for a crowdsurf and ride on Talbot’s shoulders.

The night was rapturous and celebratory, united against a singular cause. Closing with the “anti-fascist song for anti-fascist folk”, ‘Rottweiler’, the song carried that message through the bodies and minds of everyone in person or watching from home.

Featured Image: Jake Paterson

You can support the war in Ukraine following links on War Child's website.