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The most intense SXSW show? A brutal, ear-wrecking combo of Metz and Idles

Eric Pulsifer

If you were looking for the loudest, most hardcore, most moshing-est show at SXSW 2018, hopefully you found your way into the packed Barracuda Backyard for an up-close-and-personal, all-bands-on-the-floor bill featuring insane Bristol punks Idles and acclaimed Canadian noise masters Metz Friday night.

The off-stage show at Barracuda is likely one of the more intimate setups you’d catch Metz playing these days—and probably the tightest quarters you’dwant to see Idles in, lest you desire to spend an hour feet removed from the floor caught up in a battering human blender of rage-releasing fans slamming together. And that close to the band, no less, who are even more energetic than the frenzied fans crashing around them.

This all may sound like your idea of a nightmare or comical if you think the scene is silly, but Idles’ SXSW 2018 performance at Barracuda may be the best punk show of its kind I’ve ever witnessed. Think: Nick Cave meets Mcluksy, gritted teeth and grins, bruises and embraces with strangers, uplifting and angry. It felt like experiencing something people will be talking about for years to come.

Pacing the circle of fans enclosing around him and spitting on the ground, frontman Joe Talbot had the ready-to-strike walk and intense gaze of a man one wouldn’t want to cross. Guitarist Mark Bowen brought a sense of levity and used the combination of wireless microphones and the flanked-by-fans setup to be even more mixed in to the crowd than usual, at times handing off his guitar, climbing on swaying towers of audio gear, or, in the ultimate act of subversion, jumping onto the empty Barracuda Backyard stage behind the band to perform.

“Mike Stand, everybody,” Bowen said, giving an acknowledging motion to a fan holding his mic for him.

“Don’t ever give us wireless microphones again,” Talbot said.

Beneath the surface level of barely contained chaos, Idles’ performance felt urgent and like a needed catharsis—not just for weary, worn-out music fans nearing the end of a long week, but for the world at large—touching on anger, humanity, sexism, politics, poverty, and love in that sometimes surprising way that only visceral rock music can.  

“I know things are [expletive] right now, but remember to love yourselves and the people around you. Love conquers all,” Talbot said as the set drew to a close.

Weirdly, I almost felt bad for Metz to have to follow such a show.

The calm before the next coming storm was short, and Toronto-based trio Metz soon entered the pit of fans, unleashing a blistering barrage of pure melodic noise, rusty razor-wire guitar squeals, and speedy, piston-pumping bass to a backdrop of jumping and moshing and flying cups and cans.

Grungier than grunge rock played at a volume that would make even hardened shoegaze fans flinch, the static contortionists of Metz unleashed their signature sound of eardrum-killing klaxons of minimal bending guitar screeches that rise and fall like passing sirens, touching on the best bits from their three albums to date, including their latestStrange Peace.

The show began to really come into its own a few songs in. “This song is for dancing, so move your [expletive expletive],” said sweat-drenched vocalist-guitarist Alex Edkins, launching into the explosive “Get Off.”(Side note: While I agree—itis for dancing—I couldn’t help but think this must seem a hilariously confounding moment for any uninitiated listener roped into going to the show with a friend: “This is for dancing?!?”) Dance the crowd did, as event photographers on the frontlines cradled their gear and up-front fans tried to hold the door against the thrashing bodies slamming against their backs to avoid trampling guitar pedals or tripping on monitors past the invisible barrier between fan and band.

As the last bit of feedback faded away, the ringing in the ears came up in the mix. Fans assessed themselves and their belongings, turned and smiled to talk to strangers, and headed out: nothing was broken, no one hurt.

The doubleheader of hearing-ruining ruckus followed sets from “semi-legendary” (as described by frontman David Gedge) British indie icons The Wedding Present and wild, positive political punk newcomers Life. Entry to Barracuda slowed to a crawl well before Idles hit the floor, with long lines of fans inside waiting to move between the inside stage to the outdoor one. The show marked the final set for Idles at SXSW this year. Metz plays Saturday afternoon at the Thrasher X Vans Death Match party at 6 p.m.